Muscle Shoals (PG)
DIRECTED BY: Greg Camalier
STARRING: Rick Hall, Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keys
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
A long line of ghosts, some famous, others unfairly forgotten, haunts Greg "Freddy" Camalier's splendid music documentary Muscle Shoals. Duane Allman, Arthur Alexander, Wilson Pickett, half of Lynyrd Skynyrd… a full accounting of the dead is too sad to contemplate, but Muscle Shoals does us the great favour of putting on camera almost all of the survivors of a defining era in American popular music and of two feuding studios – FAME and its spin-off Muscle Shoals Sound – both located in a single tiny town on the Tennessee river.
The central figure is legendary producer Rick Hall, a dyed-in-the-wool Alabama good ol' boy who, in a place where everything was segregated except the airwaves, played unwitting midwife to a dream of transracial cooperation and cultural miscegenation, and built up at FAME Studios a house band that played on more hits than any comparable outfit of the period – or any since.
You can see ripples radiating outwards from Rick Hall and FAME that tell the hidden story of soul, country music and rock'n'roll, and the swampy sound he cooked up using all of them. His early 60s white R&B band the Fairlanes included guitarist Billy Sherrill, the producer who later pioneered the 1970s "countrypolitan" sound by laying syrupy strings and a whole lot of rhinestones on George'n'Tammy and Charlie Rich, while lead singer Dan Penn, along with fellow FAMEr Spooner Oldham and others, later wrote some of the greatest soul songs of the 60s, including The Dark End Of The Street. His first hit single at FAME was Arthur Alexander's You Better Move On, which was soon covered by the emerging Rolling Stones. Among the studio players from FAME with vastly different afterlives were proto-outlaw singer-songwriter Donnie Fritts (who's also in a few Peckinpah movies), and David Briggs, who for 30 years after quitting FAME was in-house producer and de facto musical director for Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Guitar and slide prodigy Duane Allman played such a stinging guitar solo – it's more of a blizzard – on the outro of Wilson Pickett's cover of Hey Jude that the late Otis Redding's manager Phil Walden pushed him into forming the Allman Brothers Band, thereby singlehandedly inventing 70s southern boogie, which in turn led to the success of Lynyrd Skynyrd, whose Sweet Home Alabama – that redneck Ride Of The Valkyries – namechecks Muscle Shoals and its house band the Swampers by name. Everything goes in circles …
I could have used less of Bono's insufferable musings and a lot more archival footage of Wilson Pickett and any number of other lost greats but, then again, I'm the viewer who wishes this thing was nine hours long, not two.
TUESDAY 26 SEPTEMBER
Doors: 7.30pm Film 8pm
Joyous, uplifting, and as funky as the musicians it celebrates.
A magnificently soundtracked documentary.
Dang, this film is a stairway to heaven.