Music of the Shoals

Some of the world’s greatest hits were recorded here. In 1961 Arthur Alexander’s hit, “You Better Move On,” was cut here, launching the famous Muscle Shoals Sound. And so, it began. Artists like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, the Rolling Stones, Etta James, Paul Simon, and Cher soon followed. The rest is history.

The area of northwestern Alabama that includes the cities of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, and Sheffield, flanking the Tennessee River, is known as The Shoals. Many say there’s something in those river waters that has fueled the musical legacy of the region. No matter the reason, that legacy continues to grow today. The fame comes from the unprecedented number of hit records by the biggest of stars that have been recorded here. Some of those artists were quick to credit the local studio players as the inspiration and even genius behind the recordings. Today, new generations of artists are teaming up with new generations of players and the hits keep on coming. Today, stars like Jason Isbell, Alicia Keys, The Revivalists, Demi Lovato, Jennifer Hudson, and more record here.

The good news for visitors is that two of the area’s iconic studios are open to the public for tours. The acclaimed Muscle Shoals documentary released in 2013 introduced an even broader array of music lovers to The Shoals and landmarks like these are more popular than ever. The movie chronicled the rise of FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals. Established in 1959, FAME was the first successful recording studio in Alabama and remains a working studio today. Tours offer visitors a walk through the iconic landmark’s two studios and a trove of stories of the early days when owner Rick Hall, along with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section – also known as The Swampers – rose to elite status in the recording industry.

The Swampers left FAME in 1969 and opened their own studio, Muscle Shoals Sound where they continued to make hit after hit. The first release from the studio was C her’s debut solo album in 1969, titled 3614 J Jackson Highway. The album cover featured a photo of the building, a façade that looks the same today. The building and studio were restored in 2013 and re-opened as both an active recording studio and a popular tourist attraction. Original Swamper David Hood is part of the foundation that restored it and is often part of recording sessions with today’s artists.

In addition to artists and musicians from around the world, this region – and the entire state – is known as home to an amazing number of music legends. One of those, W.C. Handy is said to be the Father of the Blues! He composed such well-known blues classics as St. Louis Blues, Beale Street Blues, and Memphis Blues. His remarkable story is told at the W.C. Handy Museum and Library in F Florence.

Alabama is home to many great singers, songwriters, producers, and musicians including Hank Williams, Lionel Richie, The Temptations, Jamey Johnson, Riley Green, Jason Isbell, and more. And there are dozens more stories of Alabama’s musical heritage on display at the Alabama Music Hall of FAME in Tuscumbia. The museum displays an amazing collection of memorabilia from dozens of iconic musicians and tells the stories behind the music. Here, visitors can view an unmatched collection of music memorabilia, learn the stories behind the music and step onto the tour bus of the superstar country band, Alabama. Some also make their own recording in the one - of - kind sound booth.

The music scene is still alive and well in The Shoals and across the entire North Alabama region. There’s a place to listen to live music most any day of the week, year-round. From local haunts to shiny new venues, from pubs to amphitheaters, and from favorite local voices to world-known artists, there is music playing. North Alabama is truly a music lover’s heaven.