[This movie review can be also seen at Josephsreviews.com where I was a guest blogger on July 17,2015)
A 2013 documentary about an Alabama musical legacy, “Muscle Shoals“, brings to light a group of musicians who never had their day in the sun.
Two iconic recording studios in the tiny town of Muscle Shoals Alabama—FAME (est. 1959) and its spinoff Muscle Shoals Sound (1960) —became the “must have” sound for, among others, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, Etta James, and many other Rock-and-Roll legendary artists. The magic of a group of background musicians, who called themselves the “Swampers”, some of whom were classically trained, were the touchstone of FAME. The Swampers were all white. Keep in mind this is the early 60’s.
“Muscle Shoals” is the love story of American music roots in the Deep South. For this viewer, some of the most spellbinding scenes focus on Rick Hall, the pioneer and open-minded founder of FAME studio. , Rick Hall’s own poverty and family upheaval perhaps allowed him to empathize with the racial hostility young music artists of color faced in most of the US, not just the south. Before the Civil Rights Movement really became a force shaping US history, FAME gave some of our most creative musicians their break in the music business. The movie gives the impression that the principals of FAME were unaware of the significance of their race-neutral music production.
Hall brought black and white music together. He produced signature music: “I’ll Take You There” and “When a Man Loves a Woman” by black musicians unknown at the time.
“Muscle Shoals” bears witness to how Hall’s color-blind passion for music infused a magnetism, mystery, and magic into the music that became known as the Muscle Shoals Sound. The filmmaker allows the key players to speak for themselves, with many cameo interviews of the legendary including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon, and Etta James. On its own, the cinematography of Muscle Shoals, the backwater town along the Tennessee River is an eye opener. And “Muscle Shoals” is not to be missed for its music history, racial progressiveness, and its imagery. A visceral and magical vision indeed!
) The original Muscle Shoals Sound Studios building is listed on The National Register of Historic Places and maintained, by the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation. Their goal is to turn the historic building into a music museum.
2) FAME is still owned and operated by Rick Hall and his son Rodney Hall. Beats Electronics, after seeing this movie, is underwriting the renovation of FAME to support young musicians.
3) Actor Johnny Depp is developing this movie into a TV series, according to Variety (July 8, 2015).