SHEFFIELD, Ala. (WHNT) – In 1969, Jerry Wexler loaned money to four 20-somethings to start their very own recording studio. Those young men were known as the Swampers — keyboardist Barry Beckett, drummer Roger Hawkins, guitarist Jimmy Johnson and bassist David Hood. They opened the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio (MSSS).
The sound stage has seen the likes of Boz Scaggs, Lulu and even Cher, the latter inspiring the sign that still hangs on the building at 3614 Jackson Highway. The building now serves as a museum and holds decades of rock ‘n’ roll history.
The Swampers closed the business in 1985, but since then, the building on 1000 Alabama Avenue has been out of use.
While the building was thought to be lost in time, it has seen the creation of many hits. News 19 has compiled a list of several artists who spent time spinning some tracks and making history in Sheffield.
R.B. Greaves, “Take a Letter Maria” (1969)
This single was the first “million copy seller” out of the building. The Swampers recorded and played on the track. The song was released in September 1969, and by November of the same year, it was certified gold.
The Staple Singers, “The Staple Singers” (1971)
The family band recorded their first album with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section as session musicians. Mavis Staples, gospel, R&B singer and civil rights activist, performed at Jason Isbell’s ShoalsFest in Florence in May of 2019 and the First Waltz at the Orion Ampitheater in Huntsville in May of 2022.
The Rolling Stones, “Sticky Fingers” (1971)
While the album was produced by Jimmy Miller, who traveled the world and worked with bands like Motörhead, some of the Stones’ number-one hits were recorded in Sheffield. Their fifth most popular song, “Wild Horses,” was one of those. Wexler let the Rolling Stones record at the studio in secret due to them not having the correct visas. The band’s three-night stay also produced other hits like “Brown Sugar” and “You Got to Move.”
Paul Simon, “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon” (1973)
The third solo studio album by one-half of the ever-popular Simon and Garfunkel received two Grammy nominations in 1974 — Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Album of the Year. The songs “Kodachrome” and “Love Me Like a Rock” were recorded at the sound stage.
Willie Nelson, “Phases and Stages” (1974)
The entirety of Nelson’s 17th studio album was recorded at the MSSS, and Wexler produced it. The album narrates a divorce with side one telling the woman’s story and side two telling the man’s.
Rod Stewart, “Atlantic Crossing” (1975)
The sixth studio album of Sir Rod Stewart peaked at number one in the United Kingdom, however, it was recorded at MSSS with the help of Tom Dowd, the Swampers and Pete Carr. Stewart also recorded parts of “A Night on the Town” (1976), which was his last number-one studio album until “Time” in 2013.
Art Garfunkel, “Breakaway” (1975) and “Watermark” (1977)
The second and third solo albums, respectively, were released by Columbia records. However, before they made their way to New York City, these tracks spent a little time in Sheffield, Alabama. According to Garfunkel, Paul Simon had turned him on to the sound of the Muscle Shoals musicians.
Cat Stevens, “Izitso” (1977)
Parts of Steven’s tenth studio album, and his “comeback” after the previous album, were recorded at 3614 Jackson Highway in the fall of 1976 and the spring of 1977. Rolling Stone magazine praised “Izitso” for its combination of folk rock and electronic music. The album reached number seven on the American Pop Albums chart.
Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Street Survivors” (1977)
The fifth studio album by the band was also the last album they did altogether. Three days after the release of “Street Survivors,” the plane carrying the band from South Carolina to Louisiana crashed in Gillsburg, Mississippi. Six people died, including founding member Ronnie Van Zant. “Skynyrd’s First…And Last” (1978), which was recorded from 1971 through 1972, was a posthumous compilation album and was later repackaged and called “Skynyrd’s First: The Complete Muscle Shoals Album.”
Bob Dylan, “Slow Train Coming” (1979)
While this was Dylan’s 19th studio album, it was his first following his conversion to Christianity. The single “Gotta Serve Somebody,” recorded at MSSS, won the inaugural Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance in 1980.
Bob Seger, “Against the Wind” (1980)
Seger’s first and only number-one album was recorded at the studio on Alabama Street. Many of his hits – “Mainstreet,” “Old Time Rock and Roll, and “We’ve Got Tonight,” to name a few – were also recorded with the help of the Swampers.
George Michael, “Careless Whisper” (1984)
According to the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio Facebook page, the first version of the single “Careless Whisper” was recorded at 1000 Alabama Avenue. It would not be the same hit version you hear on the radio, but it was eventually released as a “special version.”
Black Keys, “Brothers” (2010)
The sixth studio album by the rock duo began recording on the 40th anniversary of R.B. Greaves’ “Take a Letter, Maria.” Of the album, 10 of 15 songs were recorded at the studio, including “New Girl,” “Howlin’ For You,” and “Sinister Kid.” However, the sessions didn’t come without their issues. Due to utility work in the area, some equipment was destroyed — including microphones. Though this has been disputed.