The music of our youth is alive and well in Florence, Alabama, and a weekend trip there will make your heart remember all those great songs again. The area is known for several music recording studios that sprung up during 50’s and 60’s, which were home to some of the most prolific writers and musicians who created the music known as the “Muscle Shoals Sound.”
These musicians provided backup music and vocals for many of the greats who recorded there, including the Commodores, Percy Sledge, Ottis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Cher. The Rolling Stones even rolled into town, as well as Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynrd, and the Allman Brothers.
Before you go to Florence be sure to watch the 2014 documentary, “Muscle Shoals, small town, big music” which is available on YouTube. This evocative and informative video will give you a feel for the impact of this region on modern music today. If you don’t see it before you leave, you will likely be able to catch it on your hotel’s in-house entertainment channel. Watching it will give you a feel for the mood and the history of the sites you will visit.
Perhaps the most famous studio is FAME, started by the well-known record producer Rick Hall in 1959. The studio remains in use today, and hosts many current recording artists and songwriters. You’ll have the opportunity to go into the recording studio, and look closely at the working soundboard.
Your afternoon will be well spent at the recording studio known as 3614 Jackson Highway. Cher was the first artist to cut a record there in 1969, and she named her album for the studio. After the informative tour, you can borrow a fringed leather vest and headband from the ticket desk and take a Cher look-alike picture in front of the building to mimic the cover of her iconic album!
In addition to touring the recording studio, you can take a peek at the hidden lounge where many musicians would rest between recordings, enjoying an alcohol beverage brought in from a nearby county when this area was a “dry county.” If you’re a Rolling Stones fan, you will love seeing the studio where they recorded in 1969, and the bathroom where (as legend goes) Keith Richards struck inspiration for the lyrics of their hit, Wild Horses.
At the end of the day, head over to McFarland Park with a picnic and a hammock. The views of the river are expansive, and the trees seem to be spaced just right for a quiet swing in the afternoon.
Before you head back home, be sure to stop at a Florence landmark, Trowbridge Ice Cream Bar, which has been in business at the same spot downtown for almost 100 years. The prices are humble (only $1.25 per scoop of ice cream!) and the flavors are wonderful.
- Alabama Music Hall of Fame: tours Tue – Sat 9 am – 5 pm
617 U.S. 72 West, Tuscumbia 35674
- FAME studio: Tours are Mon – Fri 9 am & 4 pm; Sat 10 am – 2 pm
603 E. Avalon Ave., Muscle Shoals, AL 35661
- 3614 Jackson Highway Studio: open 10am – 4pm Monday-Saturday
Tour Times: 10:30am, 11:30am, 12:30pm, 1:30pm, 2:30pm, 3:30pm
Admission: $12 per person msmusicfoundation.org
Note: I was invited on a media tour of Florence, Alabama by the Florence/Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, but all of the opinions expressed are my own. All photos are either from the Bureau or were taken by this author.