Documentary Muscle Shoals is an enjoyable walk down memory lane — showcasing some of the greatest music ever produced in the United States.
But, it is also a story of survival — of persevering through a life of setbacks and emotional pain.
The movie details the life of Rick Hall, founder of the Fame music studio located in Muscle Shoals, an Alabama town (population 13,600) near the Tennessee River. Although, the studio is far removed from the typical hustle and bustle of the large city studios in New York City and Los Angeles, it still produced hit after hit beginning in the 1960s.
Despite its ‘off the beaten path’ location, in time big-name bands and artists flocked in to record their music.
Rolling Stones & Company
Footage of the Stones’ recording sessions, including the production of hits like Wild Horses, is more than nostalgic meandering, it moves the story forward. But the movie is not just old clips, current interviews with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards offer reflection as they, and other artists, try to explain the appeal and magic of the region.
But, while these interviews and clips round out the story, make no mistake, Hall is the star of the film.
Hall’s story is a tale of triumph and loss. I won’t retell his story here because it would ruin an initial viewing of the film, but his life is proof that hard times make some people stronger — and, for people like Hall, something good can be created out of the aftermath of hard times.
Down A Long Hard Road
Hall, and the studio musicians featured in the film were, in many ways, just ‘good ole boys’ from down the road. However, that certainly did not equate to untalented. They were all extremely skilled. The studio musicians, The Swampers, even toured with The Who before returning to their Alabama roots, where they eventually split from Hall opening their own music studio. This only seemed to up the magic as the hits kept coming — ranging from Bob Seger’s Old Time Rock and Roll to Percy Faith’s When a Man Loves a Woman.
Two musical incidents I found interesting, though, demonstrate the hit, miss and competitive nature of the business. Duane Allman — who would eventually helped form the Allman Brothers Band — camped out near Hall’s Fame studio trying to land a job as a session musician. In time, Hall hires him. Allman, being the creative guitarist he was, attempts to convince Hall to record, what is now known as southern rock. Hall, not interested in that style of music, nonchalantly admits on screen, ‘yeah I missed the boat on that one.’
The other story involves the best rock song ever recorded — Free Bird by Lynyrd Skynyrd (I know some will argue that distinction goes to Welcome to The Jungle by Guns N Roses, but they’re wrong). When the studio version of Free Bird was recorded in Muscle Shoals, it was over nine minutes long (the live version is about 15 minutes — as it should be). The record company wanted the studio version shortened to less than four minutes. The recording studio refused saying it would destroy the integrity of the song.
The decision eventually cost them the contract.
Rated 5 out of 5
If you enjoy music, and the stories behind some of the biggest names in music, the documentary is a perfect blend of music, interviews and story. Be forewarned though, it may inspire you to dust off some old albums or to download some classic songs from iTunes.
My Interest In The Movie
Before watching the film, I knew nothing about Rick Hall, but I did know that Bob Dylan recorded Slow Train Coming in Muscle Shoals — his best work in my opinion. The 1979 Christian Rock album features bluesy cuts like Gotta Serve Somebody and Precious Angel as well as a somewhat humorous take on the Garden of Eden — Man Gave Names To All the Animals. Dylan also recorded the follow-up album Saved in Muscle Shoals.