For music lovers, Muscle Shoals Alabama is a place of pilgrimage, proclaimed the Hit Recording Capital of the World by the city’s vintage billboards. Fans are drawn to visit the recording studios where legendary artists such as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Steve Winwood and the Rolling Stones made hit after hit in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Muscle Shoals is located on Natchez Trace Parkway in northwest Alabama.
According to Bestitude, Muscle Shoals, together with the towns of Florence, Tuscumbia and Sheffield, belongs to ‘The Shoals’.
Muscle Shoals Sound
In 1969, four local session players known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section decided to open their own recording studio. David Hood, the group’s bass guitarist and co-founder, says the studio’s name was a joke. This is how the Muscle Shoals Sound was born.
In fact, that sound was already in development in Muscle Shoals at a studio called Fame – the region’s first studio to make a hit. That was 1961’s “You Better Move On” by local bellhop Arthur Alexander, and it was the first of a string of R&B hits recorded there by artists like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and Clarence Carter.
Muscle Shoals seemed an unlikely place for a celebrity audience: the nicest hotel was a Holiday Inn, and sometimes the studios in the area put artists in mobile homes near the local trailer park. But the music kept the stars coming, and in its heyday, in the mid-’70s, there were eight studios in the area.
10 things to do in Muscle Shoals Alabama and the surrounding area
1. Alabama Music Hall of Fame
The Alabama Music Hall of Fame honors Alabama’s musical stars. Artists such as Tammy Wynette, Lionel Richie, Emmylou Harris, the group Alabama, The Commodores, Nat King Cole, WC Handy, Hank Williams and many other artists can be seen in the 12,500 square foot exhibit hall.
2. Rattlesnake Saloon
Rattlesnake Saloon, the watering hole under the rock, opened Labor Day weekend in 2009. It has since been featured in magazines, music videos, and TV shows and has become one of the top attractions in the area. The Foster family has owned this land since 1916 when Owen Foster bought the first job on a 6,000-acre piece of land for 25 cents an acre. At Rattlesnake Saloon, the whole family can relax and enjoy live music, good food, and cold beer!
3. Fame Recording Studios
FAME, Alabama’s first successful studio, was founded in 1959 by Rick Hall. His FAME Rhythm Section hit hits with some of the greats such as Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Arthur Conley and Clarence Carter The list of artists who have recorded on FAME are among the Who’s Who in the music industry – Duane Allman, The Osmonds , Bobbie Gentry, Wet Willie and Otis Redding.FAME continues to pull the hits from its staff of songwriters and artists. Nashville Star winner Angela Hacker and runner-up Zac Hacker are regulars at the studio, along with up-and-coming James LeBlanc, Gary Nichols and Jason Isbell.
4. W.C. Handy Birthplace and Museum
Handy The father of the Blues, William Christopher Handy, was born in Florence in 1873 in a humble cabin that today houses a large collection of his personal papers, memorabilia and artifacts. Born with a natural musical inclination – as a boy he visualized bird sounds as notes on a scale. Handy went on to compose well-known blues jewels such as St. Louis Blues, Beale Street Blues and Memphis Blues. Feel the blues in your toes as you stand next to the piano that first trembled with the St. Louis Blues; see his handwritten sheet music originals of many of his tunes.
5. University of North Alabama
The University of North Alabama is one of only eleven schools across America to offer a bachelor’s degree in industrial hygiene and was the first four-year public institution to offer a culinary arts program.
6. Deibert Park
Enjoy a 70 acre rustic paradise. This park with walking trails, ponds and a playground is located next to Children’s Museum of the Shoals. Different lesson plans are offered for group travel
7. Earl Peanutt Montgomery Music Museum
Located in the center of Sheffield, this museum opened for public tours in July 2018. Montgomery is celebrated as a songwriter and musician. He began his career in the early 1960s as Rick Hall’s lead guitarist at the iconic FAME Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals. Montgomery played with famous artists such as Etta James and Patsy Cline. Legendary country artist George Jones recorded 73 songs written by Peanutt Montgomery, including duets with Tammy Wynette.
8. Alabama Barn quilt trail
The Alabama Barn Quilt Trail is open during daylight hours 7 days a week. There is no charge to explore the trail. There are over 150 barn quilts on barns all over Alabama.
9. Pickwick Lake
This lake contains 30,175 acres of water along the Tennessee River, which stretches 46 miles from Sheffield and Florence to Pickwick Dam in Tennessee. It is an excellent area for small and freshwater drum and channel catfish fishing.
10. Spring park
Located in historic Tuscumbia, this park is used for various festivals, events, concerts. Spring runs throughout the park; including evening water show and illuminated waterfall. There is a family oriented playground. You can also find pavilions and restaurants here. You can fish for trout here all year round (for a fee).