Muscle Shoals may be a small town in Alabama, but it has a big musical history.
It's where Rick Hall founded FAME studios, the spot where many a musical legend flocked to, to create some of the best known tracks in the world. The 'Muscle Shoals Sound' was formulated there, where Hall married the genres of white country and black gospel to create tracks like 'Brown Sugar', 'When a Man Loves a Woman', 'Mustang Sally' and many thousands of songs that have resonated throughout the years.
Finally bringing the story of the studio to a global audience, first time director Greg 'Freddy' Camalier brought together Aretha Franklin, Greg Allman, Bono, Clarence Carter, Jimmy Cliff, Mick Jagger, Etta James, Alicia Keys, Wilson Pickett, Keith Richards, Percy Sledge, Steve Winwood and others to share their memories in this new documentary.
I caught up with the director at the Sundance London screening of Muscle Shoals to get his take on how this small town has influenced the bigger musical landscape today...
Why did you want to make this film?
Well it really found us as much as we found it. It was very serendipidous, I was helping my childhood friend move across country, from New York City to New Mexico. We were music lovers and knew some of the music that came out of Muscle Shoals, and we were near this town late one night, and the next 24 hours there blew us away because we learned so much more about stuff we had no idea about.
This was your first directorial feature. How was it for you?
It was an amazing experience, I wish I was out shooting right now, other than the fact that I'm so happy being here at Sundance London. All I want to do is make films.
You have so many big names sharing their memories from across the world. Was it diffuclt to get them involved?
Some of them like Rick Hall and David Hood, many of them, they really had a very good memory of their time there which was a great thing.
It was a defining era of music, but how do you relate what happened then to the changing landscape of music today?
I think there is a brand new renaissance of new music coming out of Muscle Shoals that will last equally as long. John Paul White hails from there from The Civil Wars, he's an amazing artist. The Secret Sisters are from there, Jason Isbell is from there and the Alabama Shakes are right down the road, many other up and coming bands and song-writers. I think you'll be seeing a whole new generation of amazing music still coming out of Muscle Shoals, equal to those in its famous history that have preceded it.
What was going on down there could be considered grassroots, getting away from the mainstream to create an authentic sound. Today people are self-releasing in the same way so do you think this type of grassroots approach is the truest form of making music?
I think the truest form of which I think you are touching upon and how they recorded music there, is having living, breathing musicians playing, versus everyone laying down their isolated tracks in a little cubicle somewhere and assembling it all together, or using a lot of synthesisers or computer programs. Getting musicians together live in a room to play, to me and those guys down there, was the best way to capture the real magic and essence of what music is.
But there are many without the means to get a lot of musicians together, and need to rely on new technology. Could the new grassroots now be considered as those doing it from their own home studio set up?
Well yes, not to confuse the two points, because I do think doing it in your own studio and your own home is an equal and great way of doing it. I just think if those musicians have their instruments and they're going to record it individually in their own home I think they could probably still manage to all come together and make that music. I don't think it matters if the studio is your garage or basement, but it's that element of coming together. It's a personal and subjective kind of thing, but to me it's that essence of what music's about. Some people may disagree.
I have to say I disagree if you are applying that logic to all music genres as the foundation of electronic dance music is exploring the musical evolution that you cannot harness with session musicians...
Yes, dance music is doing great things now and of course for that genre this doesn't apply. But consider Jazz music, it can't be done on a computer. And neither can the Muscle Shoals Sound.
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