Design By Humans
Published On: Thu, Oct 10th, 2013

FILM: Muscle Shoals

muscle-shoalsAs most film buffs and music aficionados will probably know already, Muscle Shoals is a new film by Magnolia Pictures about the almost legendary small town of 8,000 residents in North Western Alabama that has created many legendary hit records. The sound that has emanated from the two recording studios in town is well documented in this excellent documentary, with plenty of live interviews from people like Mick Jagger, Keith Richard, Steve Winwood, Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, Jimmy Cliff and Gregg Allman. Speaking of Allman, his brother Duane played in the Muscle Shoals studio band before breaking out big with the Allman Brothers.

The film has already been well received at Sundance, SXSW, Seattle Festival and The Full Frame Film Festival, and I suspect that the footage surrounding the two day visit of the Rolling Stones will ensure a diverse audience for the film. In fact, the Stones recorded four songs in two days of work including “Brown Sugar,” a level of productivity unheard of before and after by the band.

The film also covers the racial tension in Alabama during the early days of the studio, and the fact that so many black musicians were initially shocked at the funky sound produced by the house band, who were also known as The Swampers. The first record produced there was Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On,” and the second was the classic “When a man loves a woman” by the local hospital orderly, Percy Sledge, with a great organ introduction by Spooner Oldham.

The star of the film is producer Rick Hall who created the sound with his now legendary backing group of Spooner Oldham, Barry Beckett, David Hood and drummer supreme, Roger Hawkins. Most of them are still alive and still in the game, but it was unclear from the film how active the studios are today, despite footage of a brilliant gospel session with Alicia Keys. The shots of the city and the local Tennessee River are particularly well done, and luckily the film never becomes overly sentimental or sappy.

The ups and downs of Rick Hall are well documented in the film, including personal tragedy, rejection and an emphasis on his rather obsessive personality where every track recorded had to be a hit, or at the least very good. It just makes you want to go there and check it out yourself, musician or not.

Muscle Shoals opens October 11th in LA.

About the Author

- Michael Hepworth is a food, spirits and travel writer who contributes to magazines, newspapers and magazines in Los Angeles, Dubai, London and Mumbai.

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FILM: Muscle Shoals