Musical heroes don't come much more unsung than the so-called Muscle Shoals Swampers. A handful of young, white hometown boys, session musicians at the FAME recording studio in backwoods Muscle Shoals, Alabama, they were responsible for laying down some of the funkiest R&B and soul tracks to come out of the 1960s and '70s, behind such stellar artists as Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Etta James, and Wilson Pickett.
Pretty much unknown to the public, they finally get the recognition they deserve in Muscle Shoals, Greg "Freddy" Camalier's raucous musical documentary on the founding of FAME studio and the distinctive brand of funk produced there.
|Aretha and the boys in the band|
Muscle Shoals is a rural village on the Alabama side of the Tennessee River, which the Native American people called "the river that sings."
Bono of U2, observing there's always a river involved in musical movements, like the Tennessee or the Mersey in Liverpool, has a more visceral idea: "It's like the songs come out of the mud."
But the chief architect of the Muscle Shoals sound turns out to be Rick Hall, founder of the FAME studio, the son of a dirt-poor sawmiller, and onetime guitarist in a local rock band.
Among the first records he produced were the classic "Steal Away" by Jimmy Hughes, and the Arthur Alexander hit, "You Better Move On."
To cut these records, Hall called in the other guys from his previous band for back-up.
With guitar, bass, drums, and a vibrato-heavy electric organ, they became the in-house rhythm section behind such iconic hits as Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Woman," Aretha's blistering "I Ain't Never Loved A Man," and Pickett's "Mustang Sally."
"All 'funky' was, we didn't know how to play it smooth," laughs one Swamper. (Read more in this week's Good Times)