MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. — Up here, in this remote corner of northwest Alabama, they say the river sings. The meandering of the Tennessee River, dubbed Nunnuhsae or “singing river” by the Creek Indians, gave birth to the riffs, lilts and cadences of a sound known worldwide as the Muscle Shoals Sound.
If the singing river was an elixir, nearly every rock, pop and R&B artist of the 1960s and ’70s made a pilgrimage here to sample it. Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, Percy Sledge, Etta James, the Staple Singers and later, Bob Seger, the Rolling Stones, Paul Simon and Elton John. They kept coming, even when there were no vacancies at the Holiday Inn, and they had to settle for accommodations in a mobile home at the local trailer park.
Just what brought a “Who’s Who” of the music industry here?
In an interview with NPR, blues-man Clarence Carter once attempted to explain the Muscle Shoals mystique : “There is soul in Alabama that you just can’t find in New York or Los Angeles,” he said.
Where it all started