The brother and I had to make an emergency trip to Birmingham, Alabama for reasons I won't divulge here. Another story, another time. We were to leave on a Sunday and return on a Monday. Thirty-six hours in the Suburban with the Elliotts and Co. This wasn't a vacation, far from it, but knowing I would be traveling South, visions of touristy pit-stops to Rock City and Graceland passed through my head. But I've been to both (highly recommended btw), and the line to B'ham kinda pinballs between the two.
Muscle Shoals was the only destination in the entire state (besides the beach, but that's not too lovely) I could desperately think of. Then again, I wasn't sure what (if anything) was there. I knew a lot of music was recorded there (and later have discovered a ton of music was made there), but in terms of a landmark, a museum, a famous diner, I had no clue. Neither did any of my companions. And when my caravan finally obliged to my wishes of driving 90 miles off of I-65 to take a little adventure, there was already tension in the car.
When we rolled into the thick humidity of Muscle Shoals, it looked like every other, small, depressed, and rustic Southern town. There wasn't a mention of music, or music legends, or even a convenience store that sold little guitar magnets. My family was bit miffed, frustrated, ready to strangle me, till we spotted a fairly unadorned studio down the road. It was Fame Studios, the home of the original Muscle Shoals sound. There's a laundry list of artists who recorded there, simply to be backed by the Swampers; the studio's renowned session team. Aretha, Wilson Pickett, Little Richard, Candi Stanton, (to my mother's amazement) Paul Anka, all logged time there for it's room effects and the mix of country, soul, and funk provided by the owners.
Further into the 'burg, tucked away on Jackson Highway was Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, perhaps better known as thee M.S. place of refuge. Many including Dylan, Cher, Traffic, Jimmy Cliff, and Paul Simon traveled there for similar reasons. Being a point on what is known as the Mojo Triangle, it's a city nestled directly in the middle of Nashville and Memphis, so the miscegenation of black and white style was more apparent here than anywhere else during that time. Alas, it was closed, and we didn't get to see inside the final piece of the puzzle. We also never made it to Shiloh. (Sorry Uncle Jeff).
I've read and been told by a few people now that the definitive Muscle Shoals track is "I'll Take You There" by the Staple Singers. In case you're unfamiliar, or need a recap I've provided it for you.