Release Date: September 27, 2013 (NY, LA)
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Director: Greg ‘Freddy’ Camalier
Screenwriter: Not Available
Starring: Aretha Franklin, Bono, Greg Allman, Clarence Carter, Mick Jagger, Etta James, Alicia Keys, Keith Richards, Percy Sledge
MPAA Rating: PG (for thematic elements, language, smoking and brief partial nudity)
Official Website: MagPictures.com
Plot Summary: Located alongside the Tennessee River, Muscle Shoals, Alabama is the unlikely breeding ground for some of America’s most creative and defiant music. Under the spiritual influence of the “Singing River,” as Native Americans called it, the music of Muscle Shoals has helped create some of the most important and resonant songs of all time. At its heart is Rick Hall who founded FAME Studios. Overcoming crushing poverty and staggering tragedies, Hall brought black and white together in Alabama’s cauldron of racial hostility to create music for the generations. He is responsible for creating the “Muscle Shoals sound” and The Swampers, the house band at FAME that eventually left to start their own successful studio, known as Muscle Shoals Sound. Greg Allman, Bono, Clarence Carter, Mick Jagger, Etta James, Alicia Keys, Keith Richards, Percy Sledge and others bear witness to Muscle Shoals’ magnetism, mystery and why it remains influential today.
Have you ever heard of Muscle Shoals, Alabama? Let me rephrase the question – have you heard an Aretha Franklin song? Have you ever grooved to Wicked Wilson Pickett’s Land of 1000 Dances? Have you ever thought “Yes Percy Sledge, that is EXACTLY what happens when a man loves a woman!” Have you ever driven way to fast while the Rolling Stones’ Brown Sugar blasted through your speakers? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you have heard of Muscle Shoals, Alabama or at least you’re heard the Muscle Shoals sound, the subject of the documentary Muscle Shoals from director Greg ‘Freddy’ Camalier.
In the interest of full disclosure, these are my people ya’ll! I grew up just east of Muscle Shoals, also on the banks of the Tennessee River – “The Singing River” to the Native Americans who made their home there for millenia before Rick Hall founded FAME studios. Driven by a need to escape the crushing poverty and overwhelming tragedy that befalls him, Hall is the central figure in the story of the famed “Muscle Shoals sound” – well him and a group of homegrown, white as cotton studio musicians known as the “Swampers”. These men shaped what ultimately proved to be some of the finest rock, soul, and R&B America would ever produce.
Music docs can really go either way, depending on such bureaucratic mundanities as rights and clearances. Muscle Shoals is a triumph, though. All personal bias aside, present day interviews with music luminaries, expertly deployed found footage and stills, and the greatest soundtrack a movie could hope for, all make Muscle Shoals one of the finest music documentaries you’ll ever see. Let the participation of such bright lights as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bono, Jerry Wexler, Percy Sledge, Alicia Keys, Gregg Allman, Clarence Carter, and Etta James serve as a testament to the enduring magic that is Muscle Shoals, FAME studios, and that greasy, soulful sound. The only puzzling thing about Muscle Shoals is how this story went so long without being told.