Muscle Shoals (PG)

Directed by Greg 'Freddy' Camalira
FACT, Liverpool
1st - 8th November 2013

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

This is an engaging documentary about a remarkable small town in Alabama, lying on the banks of the Tennessee River, which has attracted a large and diverse range of stellar musicians over the past fifty five years to its two world renowned recording studios.

The film charts the extraordinary success of FAME Studios (founded by producer Rick Hall in the late 1950s) and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, a rival studio founded by members of FAME's original house band, called appropriately enough, given their location, The Swampers.

A lot of listeners to music recorded by them, backing famed black musicians, thought they were also black themselves, but where in fact all white guys.

Even Paul Simon was fooled. "I want the same black players who played on I'll Take You There (by the Staple Singers)" he asked people at FAME.

The studios encompassed a gamut of musical styles, including soul, blues, gospel, rock and country.

Among the luminaries who went there to record included Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Ette James, Steve Winwood, the Stones, Paul Simon, Clarence Carter, The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Syknyrd and Jimmy Cliff, who is quoted as saying "There's a field of mysterious energy in the town."

One amusing anecdote related to Lynyrd Skynyrd when they arrived at the studio. There was still, at that time, a lot of animosity, by the local inhabitants, of white musicians mixing with black musicians. But the rednecks among them became incensed when a bunch of long haired hippies arrived on the scene!

In tribute to their time there, Skynyrd namechecked Muscle Shoals in the classic track 'Sweet Home Alabama'.

The documentary is brilliantly directed by Greg Camalira, not only with some beguiling archive film clips and photographs, but also some wonderful shots of nature, including beautiful images of multi-coloured leaves floating in the Tennessee River.

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Comment left by Sandra Gibson on 14th March, 2014 at 15:37
I agree with you Colin - a great documentary with some strong music and intriguing atmosphere. The power of place.