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Doc traces origins of legendary soul sound

Posted: 11/15/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Percy Sledge recorded a massive hit with the help of two of the Swampers, FAME studio’s rhythm section

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Percy Sledge recorded a massive hit with the help of two of the Swampers, FAME studio’s rhythm section

PERCY Sledge’s When a Man Loves a Woman.

Wilson Pickett’s Land of 1000 Dances.

Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Loved You).

You might assume those classic songs, still playing in heavy rotation on rock ’n’ roll oldies stations, were originally generated in Motown.

You would be wrong. They were actually recorded in a little Alabama town in one of two nondescript music studios.

If you care about soul, rock ’n’ roll and southern rock, Freddy Camalier’s documentary Muscle Shoals is essential viewing, offering fascinating background to how this podunk town became a centre of the pop music universe in the ’60s and ’70s. Much of the credit is placed with legendary producer Rick Hall, a man who had as many personal demons as the most troubled rock star.

Bear in mind, the musicians who initially formed the famed rhythm section of Hall’s FAME Studios were all white guys — dubbed the Swampers — recording with some of the most important black recording artists of the day in the most racially charged days of the civil right movement... in Alabama.

The stories come fast and frequent, including Aretha Franklin’s dramacharged recording session (essentially jump-starting her stalled career in 1967), Mick Jagger and Keith Richards recalling the Rolling Stones’ laying the tracks for Wild Horses and Brown Sugar and Percy Sledge’s amazing career jump from hospital orderly to soul star on the strength of his When a Man Loves a Woman.

Racial tensions occurred, but members of The Swampers recall, hilariously, that hanging out with black artists in the ’60s wasn’t as dangerous as hanging with hippies (i.e. The Allman Brothers Band) in the ’70s.

The story is not without its own internal drama, which includes the schism that occurred when a rival, The Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, challenged Hall’s FAME Studio for dominance.

Hall, at 80, still bristles at the perceived treachery of the former colleagues who became competitors.

For music lovers, the conflict yielded still more great tunes.

The movie suggests that Muscle Shoals’ distance from the big music production centres in New York and L.A., coupled with its idyllic riverside setting and a perfectionist music producer, were the main ingredients of pop music legend.

Winnipeg musicians should take note.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 15, 2013 D3

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