Director: Greg Camalier
Cast: Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, Clarence Carter, John Paul White, Gregg Allman, Keith Richards, Steve Winwood, Jimmy Cliff, Rick Hall
Located alongside the Tennessee River, Muscle Shoals, Alabama changed the world as the birthplace for some of America’s most creative, exciting, and soulful music.
Directed by Greg Camalier, Muscle Shoals documents the history of the Muscle Shoals music scene and the players involved in creating that signature sound – including FAME Studios founder and legendary producer Rick Hall and The Swampers, the Muscle Shoals rhythm section that played with the likes of Rod Stewart, Boz Scaggs, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Percy Sledge, Gregg Allman, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Alicia Keys, Bono, and others bear witness to Muscle Shoals’ magnetism, mystery, and why it remains influential as a hot-spot for rhythm and blues.
The Swampers (Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, David Hood, Jimmy Johnson, Spooner Oldham) were an all-white group of Southern musicians who found success after cutting records with Arthur Alexander and, most notably, playing on Percy Sledge‘s “When a Man Loves a Woman.”
After hearing the big sounds coming out of Muscle Shoals, Atlantic Records’ Jerry Wexler flew artists like Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin down to Alabama to cut records with Hall’s legendary rhythm section. You’re actually probably familiar with The Swampers without even realizing it, as they’re famously mentioned in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”:
“Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers;
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two.
Lord they get me off so much.
They pick me up when I’m feeling blue
Now how about you?”
In 1969, Beckett, Hawkins, Hood, and Johnson left Hall’s FAME Records and started their own studio, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. To Rick Hall, this was a betrayal – and a war ensued between the two studios, creating some of the best records ever made.
Camalier’s documentary is a fun, entertaining look at music history that recognizes “those white boys” who played black music down in Alabama. I saw Muscle Shoals at the 1,200-seat Paramount Theatre in Austin, TX as part of South by Southwest and the audience was filled with film fans and movie lovers – and several moviegoers in their late 50s and 60s who came alive to the music, tapping their feet and nodding enthusiastically as the music of Sledge, Franklin, and the Stones pulsated from the speakers.
Check out the trailer below – I have a feeling you’ll be hooked. Magnolia Pictures acquired the U.S. rights to Muscle Shoals at SXSW, so you’ll definitely see a release in the near future!