Muscle Shoals, Alabama

"Muscle Shoals" redirects here. For other uses, see Muscle Shoals (disambiguation).
Muscle Shoals, Alabama

Location in Colbert County and the state of Alabama
Coordinates: 34°45′3″N 87°39′1″W / 34.75083°N 87.65028°W / 34.75083; -87.65028Coordinates: 34°45′3″N 87°39′1″W / 34.75083°N 87.65028°W / 34.75083; -87.65028
Country United States
State Alabama
County Colbert
Established April 23, 1923[1]
Incorporated April 24, 1923[1]
  Type Mayor/Council
  Mayor David Bradford
  City 15.55 sq mi (40.27 km2)
  Land 15.53 sq mi (40.22 km2)
  Water 0.02 sq mi (0.05 km2)
Elevation 499 ft (152 m)
Population (2014 est.)[2]
  City 13,614
  Density 846/sq mi (326.8/km2)
  Metro 147,317 (US: 281st)
Time zone Central Time Zone (UTC-6)
  Summer (DST) CDT (UTC-5)
ZIP codes 35660(obsolete), 35661, 35662
Area code(s) 256, 938
FIPS code 01-53016
GNIS feature ID 0152574

Muscle Shoals is the largest city in Colbert County, Alabama, United States. As of the 2010 census, the population of Muscle Shoals was 13,146.[3] The estimated population in 2014 was 13,614.[2]

Both the city and the Florence-Muscle Shoals Metropolitan Area (including four cities in Colbert and Lauderdale counties) are commonly called "the Shoals".[4] Northwest Alabama Regional Airport serves the Shoals region, located in the northwest section of the state.

Due to its strategic location along the Tennessee River, Muscle Shoals played a key role in historic land disputes between Native Americans and Anglo-American settlers in the late 1700s and early 1800s. It was also the site of an attempted community development project by Henry Ford in 1922. Since the 1960s, the city has been known for music – developing the "Muscle Shoals Sound", as local recording studios (including FAME Studios in the late 1950s and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in 1969) produced hit records that shaped the history of popular music.[5][6]


There are several explanations on how the city got its name. Some say the city gets its name from a former natural feature of the Tennessee River, namely a shallow zone where mussels were gathered.[7] When the area was first settled, the distinct spelling "mussel" to refer to a shellfish had not yet been fully adopted.[8] Others say that the name comes from the bend of the Tennessee River around the area, the shape of which looks like someone flexing an arm muscle.


The city is one of four municipalities known as the Quad Cities, the others being Florence, Sheffield and Tuscumbia, all in Alabama.

Muscle Shoals was a part of the Cherokee hunting grounds dating to at least the early eighteenth century, if not earlier. After the American Revolution, the Cherokees were divided over attitudes toward the new U.S. republic. An anti-American faction, dubbed the Chickamauga, separated from more conciliatory Cherokees, and moved into present-day south-central and southeastern Tennessee, most of them settling along the Chickamauga River. They claimed Muscle Shoals as part of their domain, and when Anglo-Americans attempted to settle the region in the 1780s and 1790s, the Chickamaugas bitterly resisted them.[9][10] Upper Creeks, residing in what is now north and central Alabama, also resented any European or Euro-American presence in the region. A major incident occurred in 1790, when U.S. President George Washington sent an expedition under Major John Doughty in an attempt to establish a fort and trading post at Muscle Shoals. This expedition was nearly annihilated by a Chickamauga and Creek party sent to destroy it, and the project was abandoned by Doughty and the administration.[11]

Anglo-American settlers in Tennessee continued to agitate for control of the region. The site was particularly desirable, as it controlled access to fine cotton-producing land immediately to its southward.[12] In 1797, John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee, complained to Andrew Jackson that "The prevention of a settlement at or near the Muscle Shoals is a manifest injury done the whole western country." At Sevier's behest, Jackson attempted to persuade Congress and President John Adams to fund a new expedition to take control of the site, but to no avail.[13] U.S. officials finally took control of the region in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Creek Country during the War of 1812. Jackson and General John Coffee obtained cession of the land from both the Cherokees and Creeks (who had continued to dispute possession) by treaty, without permission to do so from the federal government. Secretary of War William H. Crawford refused to recognize the cession, and reconfirmed Cherokee ownership, leading to personal enmity between him and Jackson, and causing a political struggle over the lands which Jackson and his backers eventually won.[14] When Jackson, as President, implemented the policy of Indian Removal, Muscle Shoals was used as a site from which to ship Upper Creeks out to Oklahoma (then Indian Territory).[15]

During World War I President Wilson authorized a dam just downstream of Muscle Shoals to help power nitrate plants for munitions.[16] The first plant started producing nitrates two weeks after the armistice, but the dam was not completed until 1924. Meanwhile, in 1922 Henry Ford tried to buy the nitrate works and the unfinished dam. Congress rejected Ford's offer as too low. The project languished until the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration created the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933.[16]


Muscle Shoals is known for recording many hit songs from the 1960s to today at two studios: FAME Studios, founded by Rick Hall, where Arthur Alexander, Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and numerous others recorded; and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, founded by the musicians known as The Swampers, which developed work for Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, the Rolling Stones and others. While the music from the area is often referred to as the "Muscle Shoals Sound", all four of the Quad Cities have significantly contributed to the area's musical history.

In addition to being home to country music band Shenandoah, a number of artists have visited Muscle Shoals to write and record. Both FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio are still in operation in the city. While famous for classic recordings from Rod Stewart, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Rolling Stones, and The Allman Brothers, recent hit songs such as "Before He Cheats" by Carrie Underwood and "I Loved Her First" by Heartland continue the city's musical legacy. George Michael recorded an early, unreleased version of "Careless Whisper" with Jerry Wexler in Muscle Shoals in 1983.

Fans of Muscle Shoals music visit the local landmarks. While most of the city's recording studios are still active, the majority will allow tours with an appointment. Further, a number of rock, R&B and country music celebrities have homes in the area surrounding Muscle Shoals (Tuscumbia), or riverside estates along the Tennessee River, and often perform in area nightclubs, typically rehearsing new material.

Unusual was the cross-pollination of musical styles that originated in Muscle Shoals. Black artists from the area such as Arthur Alexander and James Carr used white country music styles in their work, and white artists from the Shoals frequently borrowed from the blues/gospel influences of their black contemporaries, creating a distinct sound.

Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, lived in the area and stated in his autobiography that Muscle Shoals (primarily radio station WLAY (AM), which had both "white" and "black" music on its playlist) influenced his merging of these sounds at Sun Records with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash.

Rolling Stone editor David Fricke wrote that if one wanted to play a single recording that would "epitomize and encapsulate the famed Muscle Shoals Sound", that record would be "I'll Take You There" by The Staple Singers in 1972. After hearing that very song, American songwriter Paul Simon phoned his manager and asked him to arrange a recording session with the musicians who had performed it. Simon was surprised to be told that he would have to travel to Muscle Shoals to work with the artists. After arriving in the small town, he was introduced to the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section ("The Swampers") who had recorded this song with Mavis Staples. Expecting black musicians (the original Rhythm Section consisted only of white musicians), and assuming that he had been introduced to the office staff, Simon politely asked to "meet the band". Once things were sorted out, Simon recorded a number of tracks with the group, including "Loves Me Like a Rock", "Kodachrome" and "Still Crazy After All These Years" in 1973.

When Bob Dylan told his record label that he intended to record Christian music, the initially dismayed label executives insisted that if he planned to pursue the project, he must, at least, record the work in Muscle Shoals, as they felt it would provide the work "some much-needed credibility". (Dylan was not previously known for his overtly religious pronouncements, and some were worried that his efforts would be taken as satirical; recording in the Bible Belt, it was thought, might avert a disaster.) Dylan subsequently recorded two Christian albums in The Shoals. The resulting albums, Slow Train Coming (1979) and Saved (1980), were recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios.

The members of the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section were Pete Carr (lead guitar), Jimmy Johnson (guitar), Roger Hawkins (drums), David Hood (bass guitar) and Barry Beckett (keyboards).

More recently, Florence native Patterson Hood, son of "Swamper" David Hood, has found fame in his own right as a member of the alternative rock group Drive-By Truckers. The top two finishing finalists on the 2007 season of country-music singing competition Nashville Star, siblings Zac Hacker (second place) and Angela Hacker (winner), are from Muscle Shoals. In 2008, State Line Mob, a Southern rock duo group formed by singer and songwriters Phillip Crunk (Florence native) and Dana Crunk (Rogersville native), released their first CD, Ruckus, and won two Muscle Shoals Music Awards for 2008 for (Best New Artist) and Best New Country Album) of the year.

Although Muscle Shoals has receded somewhat from its 1960s and 1970s status as "Hit Recording Capital of the World" (as a sign near the airport once read), there is a group of young, local musicians that are making waves again in the musical world. These include Drive-By Truckers, The Civil Wars, Dylan LeBlanc, Gary Nichols, Jason Isbell, State Line Mob, Eric "Red Mouth" Gebhardt, Fiddleworms, and BoomBox.

The second Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, located at 1000 Alabama Avenue in Sheffield, closed in 2005 and now houses a movie production company.

The original Muscle Shoals Sound Studio building at 3614 Jackson Highway is open daily for tours as a historic museum. It has been restored to its 1970s state.

Muscle Shoals is also where The Black Keys filmed their music video for Lonely Boy. It was recorded just outside a motel, and stars a security guard named Derrick T. Tuggle, who is dancing and lip-singing the song. He says he knew the band personally, and had a BBQ restaurant across the street from their recording studio.

FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals (photograph by Carol M. Highsmith)

Sister city Florence, Alabama, is frequently referred to as "the birthplace of the Blues". W. C. Handy was born in Florence and is generally regarded as the "Father of the Blues". Every year since 1982, the W. C. Handy Music Festival is held in the Florence/Sheffield/Muscle Shoals area, featuring blues, jazz, country, gospel, rock music and R&B. The roster of jazz musicians known as the "Festival All-Stars", or as the W. C. Handy Jazz All-Stars, includes noted musicians from all over the United States, such as guitarist Mundell Lowe, drummer Bill Goodwin, pianist/vocalist Johnny O'Neal, vibraphone player Chuck Redd, pianist/vocalist Ray Reach, and flutist Holly Hofmann.

On January 6, 2010, Muscle Shoals was added to the Mississippi Blues Trail.[17]

In 2013, a documentary about the area's musical legacy, titled Muscle Shoals, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival.[18]

The Swampers

In the song "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, a verse states:

Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers.

And they've been known to pick a song or two.
Lord, they get me off so much,

They pick me up when I'm feelin' blue.

The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, also known as The Swampers, was a local group of first-call studio musicians available for back-up. They were given the nickname The Swampers by music producer Denny Cordell during the Leon Russell sessions. [19]

When Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios once early in their career, they saw the various gold and platinum records on the walls bearing the words "To The Swampers", and later included it in the song as a tribute. In the 1960s there was a pond on the north side of FAME recording studio that looked like a small swamp, hence the nickname. It was filled in when the city revamped its storm water drain system in the mid 1970s, but the name stuck.


Muscle Shoals is located on the south bank of the Tennessee River at 34°45′03″N 87°39′01″W / 34.750788°N 87.650278°W / 34.750788; -87.650278.[20]

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 15.6 square miles (40.3 km2), of which 0.02 square miles (0.05 km2), or 0.13%, is water.[3]


Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 201513,706[21]4.3%
U.S. Decennial Census[22]
2013 Estimate[23]

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 13,146 people, 5,321 households and 3,769 families residing in the city. The population density was 845.4 per square mile (326.4/km²). There were 5,653 housing units at an average density of 363.5 per square mile (140.4/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 80.6% White, 15.3% Black or African American, 0.3% Native American, 0.9% Asian, 1.3% from other races, and 1.6% Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.7% of the population.

There were 5,321 households out of which 31.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.4% were married couples living together, 12.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.2% were non-families. 26.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.44 and the average family size was 2.93.

In the city the population was spread out with 23.6% under the age of 18, 8.1% from 18 to 24, 24.9% from 25 to 44, 27.3% from 45 to 64, and 16.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40.1 years. For every 100 females there were 90.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.9 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $48,134, and the median income for a family was $60,875. Males had a median income of $41,061 versus $37,576 for females. The per capita income for the city was $23,237. About 8.3% of families and 10.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 19.9% of those under age 18 and 4.8% of those age 65 or over.

2000 census

As of the census of 2000, there were 11,924 people, 4,710 households and 3,452 families residing in the city. The population density was 979.7 per square mile (378.3/km²). There were 5,010 housing units at an average density of 411.6 per square mile (158.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 83.88% White, 14.16% Black or African American, 0.38% Native American, 0.56% Asian, 0.31% from other races, and 0.70% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.16% of the population.

There were 4,710 households out of which 34.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 59.4% were married couples living together, 11.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 26.7% were non-families. 23.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.48 and the average family size was 2.95.

In the city the population was spread out with 24.8% under the age of 18, 8.6% from 18 to 24, 29.6% from 25 to 44, 23.9% from 45 to 64, and 13.1% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 88.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $40,210, and the median income for a family was $48,113. Males had a median income of $38,063 versus $21,933 for females. The per capita income for the city was $21,113. About 5.4% of families and 7.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 8.1% of those under age 18 and 7.2% of those age 65 or over.


The Muscle Shoals City school system enjoys a reputation for its rigorous academic standards.[24] In March 2008, after an intense evaluation, Muscle Shoals High School and Howell-Graves Preschool were awarded the Lighthouse Award by the Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence.[25] The system is currently led by Superintendent Dr. Brian Lindsey. There are seven schools in the district:

Notable people


  1. 1 2 Official web site of the City of Muscle Shoals. Retrieved on December 20, 2008
  2. 1 2 "Population Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved June 7, 2014.
  3. 1 2 "Geographic Identifiers: 2010 Demographic Profile Data (G001): Muscle Shoals city, Alabama". U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder. Retrieved June 6, 2014.
  4. "Welcome to the Shoals!". Shoals Chamber of Commerce. Shoals Chamber of Commerce. Retrieved March 7, 2013.
  5. Kaetz, James P. "Muscle Shoals". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved March 7, 2013.
  6. Elliott, Debbie (September 20, 2003). "The legendary Muscle Shoals sound". Weekend Edition Saturday. National Public Radio.
  7. "The Names Stayed". Calhoun Times and Gordon County News. August 29, 1990. p. 64. Retrieved April 29, 2015.
  8. McGregor, Stuart W. (2002). "The mussels of Muscle Shoals". Alabama Heritage (64).
  9. M. Thomas Hatley, The Dividing Paths: Cherokees and South Carolinians through the Era of Revolution (Oxford, UK: University Press, 1993), 215-228.
  10. William C. McLoughlin, Cherokee Renascence in the New Republic (Princeton, NJ: University Press, 1992), 19-20.
  11. William S. Coker and Thomas D. Watson, Indian Traders of the Southeastern Spanish Borderlands: Panton, Leslie & Company and John Forbes & Company, 1783-1847 (Pensacola: University of West Florida Press, 1986), 178.
  12. Michael Paul Rogin, Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976), 170-174.
  13. H.W. Brands, Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times (New York: Random House Digital, Inc., 2006), 93.
  14. Rogin, Fathers and Children, 170.
  15. Don C. East, A Historical Analysis of the Creek Indian Hillabee Towns and Personal Reflections on the Landscape and People of Clay County, Alabama. (New York: iUniverse, 2008), 106-107.
  16. 1 2 Lienhard, John H. "MUSCLE SHOALS". Houston, TX: University of Houston. Retrieved June 9, 2013.
  17. "Mississippi to Alabama - Muscle Shoals". January 6, 2010. Retrieved January 31, 2010.
  18. "The Rolling Stones and Bono Celebrate 'Muscle Shoals' - Premiere; Rolling Stone Music". January 15, 2013. Retrieved January 16, 2013.
  19. "Alabama Music Hall of Fame :: Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section". Retrieved 2016-08-07.
  20. "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. February 12, 2011. Retrieved April 23, 2011.
  21. "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2015". Retrieved July 2, 2016.
  22. United States Census Bureau. "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 7, 2014.
  23. "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2013". Retrieved June 7, 2014.
  24. "ALSDE - On-Line Online Education Directory (System Info)". Alabama Department of Education. Retrieved December 10, 2009.
  25. "Blue Ribbon Lighthouse School Award". Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence, Inc. Retrieved April 16, 2009.
  28. "Levi Colbert b. 1759 Muscle Shoals, Colbert County. Alabama d. 2 JUN 1834 Buzzard Roost Spring, Colbert County. Alabama: Lest Our Past Be Forgotten". Lawrence Stanley Family Genealogy. Retrieved February 5, 2013.
  29. "Levi Colbert". Viki's Little Corner of the Web : A Resource for Chickasaw Native American History and Genealogy. Archived from the original on May 9, 2008. Retrieved February 5, 2013.

External links

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