This trail started with a feature by Mick Brown, in Telegraph Mag 19.10.13, on Muscle Shoals, Alabama, pop. 69,000 (er, to be checked), where white country boys who “took a left turn at the blues”, in the words of New York producer Jerry Wexler, provided the backing and production which made stars of Percy Sledge and Wilson Pickett and gave Aretha Franklin her first big hit with I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You – http://tinyurl.com/nsk4rm8/
The success of the Muscle Shoals collaborations was ironic because outside its recording studios, Alabama was still the most racially divided state in the union. The story is told in a new film: see www.muscleshoals.co.uk/ – I’ve already booked my tickets.
The first of two rival Muscle Shoals studios was founded by Rick Hall, now 81. His first record, in 1961, was You Better Move On, written and sung very well by a local gospel singer called Arthur Alexander, and a Stateside hit for Dot Records, who paid for the rights – later heard by the world after being re-recorded by the Stones, among others. Hear the original at http://tinyurl.com/mn2jfk/
Arthur Alexander wrote and sang more good stuff but ended up dropping out of the music business and driving a bus. In 1993, he made a comeback album, Lonely Just Like Me, then dropped dead. Since then, his talents have been rediscovered and there is quite a lot by him and about him on YouTube.
The second release from Rick Hall’s studio, Fame, was Steal Away, sung by Jimmy Hughes – http://tinyurl.com/yl6tsty/
Hall told Mick Brown his two favourite tracks were Patches, by Clarence Carter, and Fancy, by Bobbie Gentry. I remember Patches with a wince but must try again … http://tinyurl.com/ycxgeb5/ As for Fancy, can’t find it on YouTube, which is unusual, but you can sample the MP3 in the Amazon store at http://tinyurl.com/pqf8uvt/
The Muscle Shoals session men were known as The Swampers and included Dan Penn, who became a great soul-song writer – and, eventually, a performer in his own right. Hear his version of Do Right Woman, which he wrote for Aretha, at http://tinyurl.com/ksg6rzh/
Another Swamper, Jimmy Johnson, told Mick Brown that black r’n’b of the early 60s had a huge impact, despite racial prejudice … “at the University of Alabama, if you didn’t play the Moonglows’ Mama Loochie they’d whup your ass.”
Mama Loochie, by Harvey & The Moonglows, featured Marvin Gaye on lead vocals – http://tinyurl.com/pbv6nfl/