Pop Culture

Famed Muscle Shoals studio folds

Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield, Ala. -- where the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger and others recorded classic songs -- has closed.

The studio, owned since 1985 by Jackson, Miss.-based Malaco Records, held its last recording session in December. A film production company is in the final stages of purchasing the building.

Musicians Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, Barry Beckett and Roger Hawkins, known collectively as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, founded Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in 1969.

The gritty yet polished rock/R&B groove of the highly sought-after Rhythm Section was known as “the Muscle Shoals sound.” A Rolling Stones session at the building is featured in the film “Gimme Shelter,” which documented parts of the band’s 1969 U.S. tour.

In 1978, the facility moved to a 31,000-square-foot building. The two-room studio was used extensively by Malaco Records artists, says Malaco principal Wolf Stephenson, but the last four years saw a leaner Malaco roster and a sharp decline in outside projects.

“When computer and hard-disk recording really got cheap and better at the same time,” Stephenson says, “it just knocked the socks off a lot of studios, (Muscle Shoals) included. It was just a very difficult thing to compete with.”

Muscle Shoals was put up for sale on Internet auction site eBay in 2004. The asking price of $650,000, which included the building, property and equipment, did not yield serious offers, Stephenson says. The studio’s two Neve consoles have been sold to studios in Detroit and Los Angeles.

“It was quite emotionally painful to do this,” Stephenson says. “There are very few studios left in the world that have the charisma and mystique and notoriety that this place had.”

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