Muscle Shoals easily pits itself against its music city heavyweight neighbors – Memphis, Nashville, and New Orleans – in Cool Stakes. But don’t be fooled by its sleepy, two-horseed appearance: The City of Roots became an unlikely creative epicenter during the 1960s and a byword for successful recording studios and albums – until his star begins to decline.
That is about to change once again as Muscle Shoals (and the wider Shoals region, including Florence, Tuscumbia, and Sheffield) reclaim their place on America’s music map, with the opening of a new musical hotel and tours showing why this ‘hit recording capital of the world’ has a lot to shout about.
The first stop should be on WC Handy House & Museum, where you’ll find a micro-gallery paying homage to the father of the blues, as well as a rustic replica of his childhood log home. From there, it only takes a short drive over the meandering Tennessee River (known locally as “the singing river”) to FAME Studios. This unpretentious place is the birthplace of the sound of Muscle Shoals – that intoxicating combination of southern soul and R&B. Knowledgeable guides lead you through the padded cabins where Aretha Franklin recorded her best work in an underground sweatshop where Willie Nelson may have been partying (it was once a dry county). In case you are in any doubt about its contribution to musical history, the Brave Studio’s hit records have sold 350 million copies worldwide.