History of Muscle Shoals Music -TIMELINE-

You can find a lot of info on the web about the music of Muscle Shoals but it is hard to determine a date and the order in which things happened. This is why this "Timeline" was created. I what to give you a chronological listing of the events that took place in the world of music in the Muscle Shoals area. These dates are the best I can determine from information I have found.

Early Days
Early Days of Muscle Shoals Music
W. C. Handy who would become the "Father of the Blues" was born in Florence, AL. He would later move to Memphis TN and write many songs including, "St. Louis Blues", "Memphis Blues", "Beale Street Blues" and even "Muscle Shoals Blues".
Sam Phillips, who would become the "Father of Rock 'n' Roll", was born on a farm outside of Florence AL.
Buddy Killen was born in a shack in the east of Florence AL. Buddy's road to fame would include playing guitar in the Grand Ole Opry and playing in the bands of Hank Williams and Jim Reeves. He would eventually own Tree Music Publishing that would sell for $40 million in 1991.
Phillips moved to Memphis and worked in radio for 5 years.
Phillips opened a recording studio called "The Memphis Recording Service".

"The Memphis Recording Service" becomes "Sun Records". Later it would have a stable of artists the would become known worldwide. These would include Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Phillips recorded what is considered the first "Rock 'n' Roll" song, "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brensto and The Delta Cats (who included a young musician named Ike Turner.)


Phillips recorded a young man who was born in Tupelo, MS named Elvis Presley. Elvis' first Sun record contained "That's All Right Mama" and Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon of Kentucky" and was recorded on July 5th. The rest is history.

Sam Phillips sells to RCA the contract that he had on Elvis Presley. The selling price was a cool $35,000 and RCA also offered Phillips a job that he turned down.

Hollis Dixon, inspired by seeing Elvis at the Sheffield Community Center, organized his band "The Keynotes". Hollis and his band would cut records and do live shows from 1956 until 1982. "The Keynotes" were a tight band and many local musicians played with Hollis.

James Joiner and Kelso Herston opened a small recording studio called "Tune Records" in the Florence AL bus station.

In February local singer Bobby Denton records "A Falling Star" on "Tune Records". The song was recorded at WLAY a local radio station. The record sold a large number of copies but Denton then decides to leave the music business. Today he is an Alabama State Senator.

Kelso Herston leaves Florence and moves to Nashville TN. to become a session player and publisher.

James Joiner and Tom Stafford open a publishing company and recording studio called "Spar Music" above the City Drug Store in Florence AL. This venture would turn out to be a key player in the birth of the music recording industry in the Shoals Area. The letters SPAR stood for "Stafford Publishing and Recording".

James Joiner sells his part of "Spar Music" back to Tom Stafford so he can do more promotion in his "Tune Records". His investment of $300 brought him $900 in the sale.

Tom Stafford took on two new partners. They were Rick Hall and Billy Sherrill who were songwriters and members of the Rock 'n' Roll band "The Fairlanes".


"Spar Music" records Arthur Alexander, the first black artist to arrive on the Muscle Shoals Music scene. Arthur's song "Sally Sue Brown" was released by Jud Phillips' Florence label, "Judd Records".

In Memphis, TN, Sam Phillips opens his new studio.

FAME Era Begins
The "Florence Alabama Music Enterprises" or "FAME" comes alive and is still going strong today.

Rick Hall, not pleased with his partners, departs from "Spar Music" to venture out on his own. Hall took with him the name they had came up with for their business "Florence Alabama Music Enterprises" and shortened it to FAME. This would be his studio's name and would be in business the longest. For a building, he leased a tobacco warehouse in Muscle Shoals on Wilson Dam Road and set up business. For a studio band, he recruited Dan Penn's band "The Pallbearers".

My wife, then an 8 year old, and her family moved into this area from Lexington and rented an upstairs apartment in the building on Wilson Dam Road. At night they could hear music from downstairs and she told me that she would even lay with her ear on the floor so she could hear it better. Her mom told me that the song they were recording downstairs was "You Better Move On" by Arthur Alexander. She told me that they played it over and over again for many days. Now we know that Rick Hall wanted to get it just right.


In January "You Better Move On", issued by "Dot Records" reached #21 on the Billboard pop chart. FAME Studio was on its way. From the revenue brought in by the selling of 700,000 copies of "You Better Move On", Rick Hall moved FAME into a new building on Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals. The studio is still there and active today and if those walls could only talk.

Arthur Alexander was not only a great performer but he was a great songwriter who also had songs covered by "Elvis", "The Beatles" and even "The Rolling Stones". For a guy who started as a bellhop in Sheffield, AL, Alexander became a well known artist.

James Joiner's "Tune Records" published "Six Days on the Road" by Dave Dudley which became the trucker's anthem. Dave's recording of the song in 1963 went to #2 on the country music chart and even crossed over into the pop field.


Tommy Roe and "The Tam" came to FAME from Atlanta to record songs that made the top ten.

Hollis Dixon and the Keynotes record a local hit record named "Paper Boy".

Hall's second hit in the field of R&B came from Jimmy Huges' smash hit "Steal Away". From this point on FAME began to get a number of artists from other parts of the world that wanted a hit record.

More artists, including Joe Tex and Joe Simon, were recording at FAME.

Quin Ivy, a DJ for a local radio station - WLAY, opened his recording studio "Norala Sound Studio" (North Alabama) in Sheffield, AL across the street from his record store "Tune Town".


Quin Ivy and "Norala Sound Studio", with the help of Rick Hall and some members of the FAME studio band, recorded Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman". Written by Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright this song would be released by Atlantic Records and become an international hit. It not only topped the R&B charts but crossed over and hit #1 on the pop charts.

Now the Rest of the Story: Good sources tell us that Marlin Greene was the actual writer of "When a Man Loves a Woman" and he gave the song to Lewis and Wright so Rick Hall would not make money on the song since Greene was under a writer's contract with Hall. What Greene didn't realize was that the song would be so popular and the royalties would make Lewis and Wright wealthy men.

Wilson Pickett along with "Atlantic Records" producer Jerry Wexler came to FAME and with the skill of Rick Hall and his studio band (Roger Hawkins, Jimmy Johnson, Spooner Oldham, Junior Lowe and David Hood), cut a number of hit records. They included "Land of a Thousand Dances", "Mustang Sally", "Funky Broadway" and "A Man and a Half".

In Memphis, TN, Sam Phillips sold his new studio and he worked in radio until his death in 2003. Some of his stations, known as "Big River Broadcasting" are located in the Shoals area (WQLT and WXFL).


Aretha Franklin recorded her first smash hit "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)" at FAME. Then, through a misunderstanding, the rest of the album is recorded in New York at the Atlanta Records studio. Jerry Wexler had the FAME studio band flown to New York for the session.

Another FAME recording was "Sweet Soul Music" by Arthur Conley which was produced by Otis Redding. Side note: Otis Redding died in 1967 without having a hit record. They all came after his death.

Barry Beckett, from Birmingham, AL, and Duane Allman, from Macon GA, join the FAME studio band. Beckett replaced Spooner Oldham who had moved to Memphis.

James and Bobby Purify records "I'm Your Puppet" at FAME. The song was written by Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham and the players on the session included Jimmy Johnson, Roger Hawkins, Barry Beckett and on trombone was "Bass man" David Hood. Side note: James and Bobby Purify were not brothers and their last name was not Purify.

At the end of 1967 the relationship between Rick Hall and Jerry Wexler broke off and Wexler did not bring any more artists to FAME.


Quin Ivy moves his Norala Studio from 2nd Street (Sheffield) to a new building on Broadway Street in Sheffield and changes the name to "Quinvy Recording Studio". It was at this that Ivy hired David Johnson to do engineering and manage the studio. During his time in the business David would also produce some great tracks on some of the country's biggest artists (Percy Sledge, The Supremes, The Commodores, Clarence Carter, Lynyrd Skynyrd and many more).

Etta James recorded "Tell Mama" at FAME.

Clarence Carter, an Alabama-born R&B artist who was a blind singer and song writer, came to FAME and recorded his hit "Slip Away". Carter has recorded in Muscle Shoals in the decades of 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s. I know no other artist who has been that faithful to the Shoals.

Muscle Shoals Sound Era Begins
From 1969 to 1985 this studio pumped out hits by many artists and produced vintage Muscle Shoals Music.

The Day Southern Rock was Born: It all started at FAME studio with a discussion between Duane Allman and Wilson Pickett as to the talent and the songs of the Beatles. Allman considered them to be great artists while Pickett said they had no soul. The story goes that the studio band went out the Singleton's Barbeque for lunch leaving Allman and Pickett still talking about the Beaters. When the session men got back from lunch Allman had Pickett ready to record "Hey Jude" and the rest is history. As for the birth of Southern Rock, just listen to Allman's guitar riffs during the last third of the song. Those never before heard guitar licks gave the Allman Brothers a record contract and the birth of Southern Rock music.

Let's ask ourselves this question, "What made Rick Hall's FAME studio the hottest place in town to record a hit record?" We will turn to Jerry Wexler for the answer, "Those players made the difference". He is talking about Roger Hawkins (Drums), David Hood (Bass), Jimmy Johnson (Rhythm guitar) and Barry Beckett (Keyboard). Later in the 70's this mixture of pure musical genius would become known as "The Swampers" and would lay down the rhythm tracks for many hit records.

The birth of the "Muscle Shoals Sound" studio was prompted by a series of events. (1) The Swampers were being held back by Rick Hall at FAME. (2) Terry Woodford, during an 8 phone conversation with Roger Hawkins encouraged him to get with the others guys and purchase the Fred Bevis recording studio at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield. Terry believed that the boys could record hit records without a producer and time proved him right. (3) Rick Hall was ready to sign a contract with Capitol Records that would not allow the studio band to do session work at any other studio but FAME. This would starve the band since they only worked at FAME a few days a month. (4) Jerry Wexler had promised the band, if they made the move, that Atlantic Records would help them buy equipment and bring in 18 months of business. This was too much to pass on so the guys made the move.

Cher records her "3614 Jackson Highway" album at MSS. The sessions started on Monday, 21 April and finished on Wednesday, 14 May. During this period of time and between sessions Cher and husband Sonny would make three trips, one to California to spend some time with their new 7 week old daughter, Chastity, one to England to appear on the Tom Jones TV program "This is Tom Jones and a trip to New York City to be on the Joey Bishop TV Show. Upon their return to Muscle Shoals on Wednesday 14 May Cher finished the album by cutting "Lay Baby Lay".

Lulu of England who sung "To Sir with Love" came to MSS and recorded her "New Routes" album.

In December "The Rolling Stones" record 3 days at The Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. The tracks they record were "Wild Horses", "You Gotta Move" and "Brown Sugar". It would be 1971 before "Brown Sugar" would be release on the "Sticky Fingers" album and it would chart a #1 in the US and #2 in the UK. The delay was caused by legal disputes with the Stones' former manager, Allen Klein, over royalties. It is interesting to note that even though recording technology had advanced in the 3 year period the original version done at Muscle Shoals Sound was used for the album. Being a more power take than the later ones indicate the quality of the music recorded in Muscle Shoals. Jimmy Johnson engineered the sessions.


R. B. Greaves records his self titled album which includes his hit "Take a Letter, Maria". This song was the first hit to be recorded at MSS. The boys had to wait for almost a year but they did what others said couldn't be done and that was record a hit song in a studio other than FAME.


David Johnson purchases the Quin Ivy's recording studio and renames it "Broadway Sound" since it was located on Broadway Street in Sheffield.

At FAME Mac Davis records his hit "Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me". It took two days to record the song. The story, as shared by members of the FAME Gang (the studio band), goes like this, the first day they worked on the song but could not get anything Rick Hall was pleased with. At the end of the first day Hall told Mac that the song needed a hook. Mac went back to the hotel and the evening rewrote the song. The next morning he brought into the studio "Baby Don't Get Hooked on Me", he had placed the hook in the title. That day when the song was recorded the way Hall wanted it he announced to Mac that he had a hit. After the session players agreed with Hall, Mac told them that if the song was a hit he would buy them all a Cadillac. The song was a hit but they never received their Cadillac.



Please feel free to write me if you have additions or corrections to make on these Timelines. I have gathered this information for magazine articles, news paper articles, the web and CD liner notes so it is possible that some corrections are called for.

Please give me your input by using my comment page.

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