September 18 – Red Bay, AL (Chapter 3)

Wed. September 18

Approximately 36 miles NW of Red Bay we discovered an area that consists of several small towns that have an incredible impact on American music.

The towns are:

  • Muscle Shoals. The 2019 census states the population was 14,575. 
  • Sheffield, located in the Shoals metropolitan area, had a population of 8,986 in 2019.
  • Florence located across the Tennessee River had a population of 40,309 in the 2019 census.

That’s what makes this area extraordinary and disproves the adage that “size matters” which alludes to the larger, the better.

We’ve heard musicians have pilgrimaged to Memphis or Nashville to get discovered and make their start. So why are we writing about the Shoals?

Founded by Rick Hall, FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) Studios originally located in Florence is now located in Muscle Shoals and had produced many hit records and was instrumental in what came to be known as the Muscle Shoals sound. The session musicians, known as “The Swampers”, created their signature sound, a combination of country, R&B and soul music. The group surprised black artists, who were often in disbelief to learn that the studio musicians were white.

FAME’s website states, “Some places retain a quiet magic. This magic doesn’t announce itself, but you do feel it nonetheless. It’s in the air and among the denizens as if they’re keeping a secret they can’t wait to share—but hold onto tightly nonetheless. You can count Muscle Shoals, Alabama among those mythical places… With little more than 13,000 residents, it’s located 678 miles from the Motown of Detroit and just under 1,000 miles from New York City. However, this cozy community built on 16 square miles of damned-up swamp land unassumingly served as the fertile creative ground for seminal smashes by everyone from The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan to Etta James and Aretha Franklin. You might know the words to every song by heart, but you only knew the place by studying the liner notes of dusty old vinyl’s from the 60s, during which the south was at the height of the Civil Rights movement. Under the shadow of Jim Crow and the KKK, this creative bastion made a stand for equality by uniting African American and Caucasian musicians in the studio on these immortal records.”

In 1969, four session musicians, known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section left FAME to start their own recording studio, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio (now mostly a museum) located in Sheffield. 

These two studios have produced the Muscle Shoals Sound and have worked with some of the Greatest artists in Rock music history.

Artists such as Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Otis Redding, the Osmonds, Jerry Reed, Alabama, Mac Davis, the Gatlin Brothers, Bobbie Gentry, The Gregg Allman Band, Third Day, Michael McDonald, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, Aloe Blacc, Chord Overstreet, Keb Mo, John Paul White, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Matisyahu, Band of Horses, Drive by Truckers, Bettye Lavette, Cyril Neville, the Civil Wars, Anderson East and Jamey Johnson and The Rolling Stones to name a few.

The Muscle Shoals Sound Playlist


We visited the Alabama Music Hall of Fame museum which tributes these musicians. Photos below.


We also visited the Huntsville Botanical Garden. The 112-acre garden is open year-round and contains a diverse ecosystem of meadows, upland and bottomland forest, wetlands, and a variety of specialty gardens and native plant collections. This garden is well worth the visit when in the area.

Huntsville is best known for its military technology and aerospace industries. It was here that scientists designed and tested the Saturn V rocket that would send men to the moon for the first time.

Garden photos

Tuesday, September 28, we left the Tiffin service area and Red Bay and started the last segment of our trip in search of “leaf season”, the beginning fall in the Appalachian Mountains. Our first stop is in the Chattanooga area for an overnight stay and then on to Sevierville, TN.



Today’s Thought 

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston S. Churchill

Upcoming Trip Schedule

Wed, September 29, 2021

Sevierville, TN

The Ridge Outdoor Resort

We will spend 6-days in the Sevierville area exploring the Smokey Mountains.

Miles from last stop: 159


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