Back on November 13, the University of North Alabama hosted a symposium dedicated to the musical history of the Muscle Shoals area. The event mainly covered the area's musical past, but also included segments on the business of songwriting, modern studio production, and the current state of the music business.
Muscle Shoals began its ascent into the world's musical consciousness during the 1960's southern soul boom with everyone from Wilson Pickett to Aretha Franklin to the Staple Singers recording there. Then, in the 70's and 80's, many mainstream rock acts (the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon) recorded hits of their own in the small river community. The Shoals also gave career jump starts to several of their former session players including Duane Allman.
Although today's musical community in Muscle Shoals centers mainly on Nashville-oriented songwriting rather than recording, the symposium showed that the area still has a sense of its own roots. Those appearing at the event, many of whom still reside in the area, included the soul writing duo of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, soul singers Clarence Carter and Jimmy Hughes, as well as Jimmy Johnson, Roger Hawkins, David Hood and Barry Beckett better known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.
The symposium ended with a history making panel that included: Rick Hall, founder of FAME, the first Muscle Shoals studio to receive national exposure; Buddy Killen, an area native who went on to found the publishing giant Tree International; Sun Records founder and area native, Sam Phillips; and Jerry Wexler, the Atlantic Records executive and music producer who exposed Muscle Shoals to the world.
The symposium provided an impressive coda for an excellent series of feature articles about the history Muscle Shoals music entitled "The Rhythm of the River" that had recently appeared in TimesDaily, one of the area's local newspapers. The series co-authors, Terry Pace and Robert Palmer served as moderators for the symposium.
- Jim Markel