The Birth Place of R&B (Documentary)

Uploaded by vice on 25.10.2012


MALE SPEAKER: One, two, three.
TRAVIS WAMMACK: It's the South.
It's growing up poor, teaching yourself,
playing from the heart.
I don't think the sound that was
created in here was planned.
DONNIE FRITZ: The key word to me about Muscle
Shoals, it's a groove.
IAN SVENONIUS: Here we are.
We're in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
Muscle Shoals is known for a lot of things.
It's known for Reynolds Wrap.
And it's known for being a swamp.
But it's mostly known for American music.
The studios Muscle Shoals Sound and Fame have produced,
you know, Wilson Pickett records, Percy Sledge records,
Rolling Stones, and everything up to Lynard Skynard, the
Osmond's, and the group Alabama.
We wanted to explore what made this region such a fertile
musical region.
We're talking to the people who have worked here, who've
established Muscle Shoals, put it on the map.
And we're going to talk to the young people who are trying to
make their own way.
IAN SVENONIUS: So much music now is based on the music that
was made here.
What are the central ingredients of that sound?
DOC DAILEY: When I think of the Muscle Shoals sound, like,
from the old recording era, I think more of an R&B feel.
But that's kind of what I think about.
I think it's probably more of a recording legacy.
You know, we had all the great session players here and
studios back in the day--
white guys playing soul music.

RICK HALL: We all started out as pickers.
We all had our own bands and we all played gigs.
And the odds were against us.
We're recording in a town of 5,000 people where you only
have four good guitar players.
You only have three good song writers.
It's a dry county.
You can't buy booze or even beer here.
And the thing we have going for us in spite of all of
that, we were cutting hit records because we worked
harder, longer, and were more driven, and felt the pressure
to be competitive with the world.

DONNIE FRITZ: We were just kids and learning.
But it was a young business.
It'd only been like three or four years since Elvis and all
these guys from Memphis started.
IAN SVENONIUS: First of all, I want to asked how you got
started, how you got the job?
DAVID HOOD: Well, I started hanging around Fame which was
just down the street from the store.
I was working at my father's tire store.
And my first union scale recording session was a hit, a
gold record.
And I had to start learning how to play
the base after that.
RICK HALL: We started out with a little funky
demonstration studio.
We stapled egg cartons on the walls.
And that was in Florence, Alabama, that's where Fame got
its name, of course, Florence, Alabama Music Enterprises.
DAVID HOOD: This is the legendary Rick Hall who
produced Arthur Alexander and the first hits that were from
around here.
He would find a song or an artist and go in and record
that artist with that song.
And then he'd go shop it and try to get it
played on the radio.
RICK HALL: I went on a tour.
We called it the Great Vodka Tour.
And any black station that had a tower, I'd take them a
bottle of vodka, or a bottle of gin, or whatever.
Then we left town and we're driving down the highway.
And we took a swig a vodka.
And said, hey.
They're playing our record.
RICK HALL: It also started out with black music.
RICK HALL: And I want to make that clear.
IAN SVENONIUS: Wilson Pickett came in.
This was after he was in the Falcons and was--
They recorded "Midnight Hour" at Stax in Memphis.
And it was their first big hit.
And Jim Stewart, who owned Stax, said, well, look, we're
not going to let you guys come back in here and record
anymore stuff.
I want everything to be for Stax that's recorded here.
And so Jerry Wexler started looking for
another place to record.
And that's when he brought Pickett.
What really got Muscle Shoals music happening was Jerry
Wexler bringing Wilson Pickett and then
later on, Aretha Franklin.

RICK HALL: It's a little strange when you are a white
cracker from the State of Alabama and you become known
as a producer who produced only blacks acts.
So when you get to the Rolling Stones, and Otis Redding, and
on and on, you start to make your mark and
the word gets out.
Wait a minute?
What's going on down in Muscle Shoals, Alabama?
IAN SVENONIUS: What makes this area so musical or whatever?
Or do you think it's anymore musical than any other places?
DOC DAILEY: Oh, it's definitely more musical than
other places.
IAN SVENONIUS: Is it the water?
DOC DAILEY: That's what they talk about, the singing river.
The river?
That's interesting.
That's what they say.
There's supposedly an Indian legend that there's a lady in
the river that sings.
And you can actually hear her.
IAN SVENONIUS: Does she sing well?
DOC DAILEY: I've never heard her.
RICK HALL: People started migrating here from other
areas of the country, from California, from Los Angeles,
from New Orleans, and everywhere.
DAVID HOOD: I think that they came here because they had
heard a record or something, a hit that was recorded.
And they came because they wanted a hit too.
RICK HALL: So it's not where you're at, it's the
determination you have.
New York didn't want me and Los Angeles didn't want me.
So it was either Muscle Shoals, or nothing.
I just decided to plant myself here and said, look,
I'm going to do it.
I don't care if it was Wilson Pickett, or Clarence Carter,
or Aretha Franklin, or Mack Davis, or Elvis Presley,
whoever it was, if I was producing the record, the
record became my record.
And what you heard on the record was
what I wanted to hear.
TRAVIS WAMMACK: Back then, we were an exclusive for Fame.
And we were punching the clock from 9:00 to
I think 5:00 everyday.
And you had to be busy.
You had to be writing or doing something, you know.
IAN SVENONIUS: The Fame Rhythm Section moved over to Muscle
Shoals, started their own thing.
Did you see that as like a threat to what you were doing
or were you excited that this was becoming, like, growth of
a new music center?
RICK HALL: Well, I was certainly proud of the fact
that I felt like a teacher of a bunch of guys
that were making it.
And I was dumb enough not to know that they were to almost
put me out of business.
DAVID HOOD: The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section were the rhythm
section at Fame before we left and started Muscle Shoals
Sound Studios.
And so when we left, Rick was a little pissed off at us for
leaving him.
But he went right ahead and cut hit records without us.
RICK HALL: They was so good at what they had done, and they
had learned so well that they were kicking my ass.
DAVID HOOD: When Rick started having his success as a
result, me, guys I work with, all of the sudden people
thought that we were experts almost.
And so you think, well, maybe I am.
DONNIE FRITZ: Well, just one thing led to another.
And it just build up to what it became.
But it was those early days of young people learning as we
went along, you know.
JAMIE BARRIER: The Fame, like, Ben Tanner
used to work in there.
And he let us come in at night.
And we wrote songs and we had killer microphones.
It recorded it perfect.
If I go to my brother's house, this real sassy record player,
you can, like, hear the earth being ripped apart, you know?
It's was just, like, I thought it was awesome.
JAMIE BARRIER: Florence, Alabama is so--
it's such a corpse.
It's real easy to kick it.
Here it's a wasteland of abandoned massive buildings.
The potential, if you want to do it, is, like, unlimited.
It's just a matter of, well, I'd rather sit
on the couch tonight.
And, like, watch television or getting up and
doing it, you know.
That's like your main battle.
It's hard to make a living off of art anywhere in any town--
I worked at Subway for seven years.
I'm, like, I put this many hours into this job and do it
for myself I can make ends meet.
Yeah, this is the Black Owl Trading Company
in Florence, Alabama.
I mean, we record bands.
We have touring bands.
And we do screen printing in there.
And that's the printing wheel.
And this is our old heat machine.
I listen to reggae records all day long and screen print.
It's pretty cool.
It's been good.
We used to get a lot of harassment from the police.
But we quit having a lot of the high school bands play,
which sucks.
But most of those bands were, like, hardcore or metal.
Like, we weren't into the music.
But we would do it just to, like, just to give them the
place to play.
The way I learned to do music is like the DC discord style.
Putting out your own record, record it yourself for cheap,
put out a zine, load up the van.
I absolutely love that.
You know what I mean?
If that's what making it is, that's what I want.
DOC DAILEY: And there's a lot of the older guys that'll tell
you a lot of good stories.
That's for sure.
But I think the industry has just changed so much that
right now it's the wild west as far as I can tell.
JD MCCORKLE: In Florence there's not really, like, a
music venue.
There's bars and they have, like, a PA system set up.
A big hold back is a law called 49/51.
You can't have more revenue coming in from alcohol than
you do food.
It has to be in a 49-51% ratio.
JAMIE BARRIER: I'm like the only guy that, I don't care
about that law.
All you got to do is clear furniture out of the room.
You know what I'm saying?
The lousiest nights I ever have are in bars anyway.
That's just me.
The best times I have are, like, in those weird kind of
shows in the laundry room.
IAN SVENONIUS: So yeah, what's it like being in a group here?
DOC DAILEY: Travel a lot if you want to
really play, you know.
It's not your ideal place.
You know, bands try to tour through here and we can't find
shows for them.
And people are really beating down the door to come
through here now.
But you just can't fill the place on a Monday night or
Tuesday night.
People would rather go and watch someone cover a song by
a guy that might be playing down the street,
you know, the original.
IAN SVENONIUS: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
DAVID HOOD: We play on a Wednesday night, which in the
South, that's church night.
I'm wondered sometimes if Elvis Presley couldn't show up
and draw five people or something.
It's just the people.
It's not a really big scene around here like it is in a
larger city.
DOC DAILEY: Everybody growing up around here, their parents
know some session guys.
And everybody grew up with guitar in
their house and pianos.
It's hard to find someone down here that
doesn't play a guitar.
IAN SVENONIUS: I think of the Muscle Shoals thing as kind of
this meeting point of all these songs.
DAVID HOOD: I think so, too.
And I think it was the players, and engineers, and
people that created that sound probably more
than anything else.
SCOTT BOYER: The heart and soul that the people around
here play with has always been my favorite thing about music
from the Shoals, you know.
DONNIE FRITZ: How this can happen in a little bitty town
in North Alabama, you know.
I don't know whether to call it magic or not, but there's
been something going on here that
doesn't go on other places.
RICK HALL: The main thing is, it's all about music.
And it all starts with a song.
And we can't forget that.

MALE SPEAKER: One, two, three, four.