The Muscle Shoals include the towns of Florence, Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals. The Tennessee River, the “singing river”, runs through these northern Alabama communities bringing fiddle playing, folk and later the Muscle Shoals Sound made popular by FAME studio, the Swampers, Jerry Wexler, Rick Hall and a long list of renowned music makers including Cher, Percy Sledge, The Rolling Stones, Paul Simon, Osmonds, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and so many more. Over the 4th of July week-end, my siblings and our mates explored the must see sites of the roots of American music trail including Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, FAME studio, Alabama Music Hall of Fame, and W.C. Handy – Father of the Blues’ original home and museum.
My brother, Mike, and his wife, Debbie, have relocated to outside of Rogersville, AL, which made for a perfect gathering spot to celebrate Independence Day. The week-end weather was cool with rain, which while dampening the fireworks, did not slow us down from cooking out, enjoying views of the river, and an outing to the Huntsville Space and Rocket Museum. Trip highlights were many.
- The Moon Tree and gardens around Helen Keller’s home in Tuscumbia is worth a two to three-hour stopover. We saw the black well where Helen Keller first tapped out the word, water, as well as a towering tree, named the Moon Tree because the original seed flew to the moon and back on a USA rocket before it was planted in this garden. The gift shop missed an opportunity to sell books by Helen Keller including her autobiography. Did you know she wrote about twelve books in her lifetime? Instead, the voracious readers in our family had to seek out a Barnes and Noble to get our fix and to learn more about this incredible woman’s life journey.
- While FAME studios has not changed a bit from its start in the 1970’s, something about the sheer magnitude of the number of incredible musicians that performed here made for an out-of-the-ordinary experience for our gang this week-end. We pretended to jam at the same piano that Aretha Franklin sang Respect and RM lip-synched at the microphone in a private sound booth that Paul Simon swooned Kodachrome all the while we were collectively a bit aghast by the crudeness and dinginess of the place. This studio is in serious need of a face lift and scrubbing. It reminded me of a restaurant dive that never changes the decor or the grill or the grease trap out of fear that if anything is updated it will somehow change the taste of the burgers and jeopardize the steady draw of its customer base. Many of these artists believed and came to FAME for a comeback or a kick-start because this studio had a certain magic and a string of #1 hits to prove its mystique. The real secret to its success was the studio musicians, the Swampers, and the drive of the producers. But maybe it was the singing river and the shoals, who knows? Check out the documentary about Muscle Shoals, the small town with a big sound and learn more about the history. http://www.magpictures.com/muscleshoals/ BTW…it is on Netflix.
- A 4th of July cookout with my family including grilled halibut steak, Pacific salmon, veggies from our hosts’ garden and stories around the family table. Laughing a lot and remembering…
- A family of tiny hummingbirds outside the window in the mornings at the feeder and among the flowers.
- Sharing a love of music, books, crafts, hobbies and cooking. And getting reconnected to our roots.
So if you haven’t yet visited northern Alabama, plan on a visit and note that the W.C Handy Music Festival is the last full week in July in Florence. Check out http://www.wchandymusicfestival.org for details and get down to some greasy rock and roll! Happy 4th of July and as Wilson Pickett recorded at FAME , “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.”