North Alabama recording studios continue a musical legacy

In Muscle Shoals they got the Swampers — and more these days

Kevin Jackson is president of the Shoals Economic Development Authority. Photo by David Higginbotham.

If the Hoods are the Royal Family of Music in the Shoals – and there’s a good case to be made that they are – then Judy Hood is most certainly the queen.

Her husband, David, is a member of the Swampers, the legendary Muscle Shoals Swampers Rhythm Section, who have recorded with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, Etta James, Linda Ronstadt … the list goes on. He’s a member of the Musicians Hall of Fame and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, and he was No. 27 on Rolling Stone magazine’s top 50 bass players in the world.

David Hood’s son, Patterson, has had a successful career as a solo artist and as a member of Drive-By Truckers. “Patterson’s successful career is a huge source of pride for us,” Judy Hood says. “When Patterson was first starting out, people would ask him, ‘Are you David’s son?’ As Patterson’s celebrity status advanced, people would stop David and ask, ‘Are you Patterson Hood’s father?’ David gets a kick out of that.”

And Queen Judy is no figurehead. After a successful career in marketing and public relations, she started Judy Hood Consulting. She is chairman of the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation, which owns and operates the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, which changed hands and eventually closed before being revived after the 2013 documentary “Muscle Shoals.”

“The documentary rocked our world in the best possible way,” Judy Hood says. “It reignited the spark that made the place the hit recording capital of the world. It would be impossible to measure the full economic impact it has had on our area in terms of music tourism, upticks in recording and a huge demand for Muscle Shoals musicians to do live showcases at national and international music festivals.”

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And some of the music industry has come to the Shoals, with producers, artists and managers moving to the area from Nashville, Los Angeles and other big cities.

In part to capitalize on that, the Shoals Economic Development Authority has a new initiative called Shoals Makers, which serves as a facilitator for those wanting to record or film in the Shoals area.

“The program allows for a producer to be reimbursed for up to 30% of recording expenses, depending on the budget for the project,” says Judy Hood. “We are already seeing results as several producers have reached out to us and brought work here.”

That’s just what SEDA is hoping the initiative will do.

“The bottom line is we want to keep the musical heritage for our area alive and grow it exponentially for the future generation,” says Kevin Jackson, president of SEDA. “We have about a dozen studios churning out quality sound with our community of world-class producers and musicians. This incentive is for the studios, producers and session musicians.”

The recording studios in the Shoals area have learned that working together is the path to success.

“We understand that a rising tide lifts all ships and what is good for one of us is good for all of us,” Judy Hood says. “In an area this size, the music industry functions as one big family. We loan each other equipment, share engineers and support each other.”

Judy Hood and Kevin Jackson at a console at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. Photo by David Higginbotham.


There’s a long and intertwining history behind Muscle Shoals’ two legendary studios — FAME Recording Studios and the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.

Rick Hall, Billy Sherrill and Tom Stafford started FAME in 1959 above the City Drug Store in Florence (FAME stands for Florence Alabama Music Enterprises). In 1961, Hall, without Sherrill and Stafford, moved the studio to Muscle Shoals, and in 1963 he moved the studio to Avalon Avenue, where it not only stands but operates today.

In the mid-1960s, artists such as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding were recording at the studio, which included session musicians known as the Muscle Shoals Horns and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (or the Swampers).

FAME continued to draw top performers, including the Osmonds, Bobbie Gentry, Mac Davis, Paul Simon and Shenandoah. More recently, Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, Demi Lovato and Third Day have recorded there.

In 1969, four of the Swampers (David Hood, Barry Beckett, Jimmy Johnson and Roger Hawkins) left to start the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, originally at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield.

Performers recording at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio included the Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan and Traffic. Cher recorded her album “3614 Jackson Highway” there in 1969.

In 1979, the studio relocated to a larger studio at 1000 Alabama Ave. in Sheffield, and in 1985 it was sold to Malaco Records. That studio closed in 2005.

The 2013 documentary “Muscle Shoals” revived interest in the studio, and the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation bought the property, planning to open a music museum there. The building closed from 2015 to 2017 for major renovations.

Since then, more than 84,000 people from around the world have visited the building for tours, and it remains a working studio at night, attracting the likes of Grammy-winning Chris Stapleton.

Country, folk, rock, blues — they’re all part of the Muscle Shoals musical heritage. And their ongoing presence in the Shoals continues to reverberate through the region and its economy.

Alec Harvey is executive editor of Business Alabama and David Higginbotham is an Decatur-based freelance contributor.

This article appeared in the October 2022 issue of Business Alabama.

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