the edge of muscle shoals



I watched the movie Muscle Shoals (Magnolia Pictures) over the weekend.  The movie is about two very famous music studios near Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

I am a member of the Board of Directors of the late Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation in Chicago.  Blues Heaven is a not-for-profit that works to preserve the legacy of Blues music.  Blues Heaven is located in the old Chess Records building in Chicago. Chess Records produced such famous blues and rock and roll artists such as Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Chuck Berry, Howling Wolf, Bo Didley and others in their own famous recording studio at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago.  If you are ever in Chicago, you can take a tour of the Chess studios.  Check the Blues Heaven website for details.

Learning the story about another famous recording studio that existed as the same time as the Chess studio was fascinating.

Muscle Shoals is located near the Tennessee River, which the Native Americans in the area called the “singing river.”  According to the local Yuchi tribe, the flowing waters of the river sounded like a “woman singing.”

The first music studio was founded by Rick Hall and was called the Fame studios.

The second, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was founded by  a group of four studio musicians called The Swampers, who originally worked with Rick Hall at the Fame Studios and broke away to form their own studio.

The Swampers include Barry Becket (keyboards), Roger Hawkins (drums), Jimmy Johnson (guitar) and David Hood (bass guitar).

The music studios in this little corner of Alabama had it own unique vibe and sound and recorded songs by a Who’s Who of rock and roll artists including: The Rolling Stones, Simon and Garfunkel, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, Traffic, Boz Scaggs, Julian Lennon, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Canned Heat, Cher, Bob Dylan and many others.

What is so interesting about the music with the Swampers as studio musicians is that the Fame Studio recorded top selling albums by African American recording artists, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, the Staple Singers and others in the 1960’s.

The Swampers are all Caucasian.  Yet, they were able to go into a music studio with some of the most famous African American recording artists and work so closely with them to find the right “groove” that the result was music so unique and soulful that it changed the course of music history.

Yet, because of segregation that existed in the south at the time, the Swampers could not easily share a meal in public with these same African American recording artists that they worked so closely with in the music studio.

So what made recording in Muscle Shoals so special?

Was is the energy of the “singing woman” of the Tennessee River?

Was it the vision of Rick Hall and the talent, personalities and soul of the Swampers?

Or was it something else?

So what is the edge of people working together?

I challenge you to interact with someone totally different than yourself this week and find the right “groove” to make some interesting new music with that person.

Out There on the Edge of Everything®…

Stephen Lesavich, PhD

Co-author of the award winning book:  The Plastic Effect:  How Urban Legends Influence the Use and Misuse of Credit Cards.