Insight

Inspiration from Points North

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Written by Dr. Matthew McCabe

A blues legend’s birthplace, a university, a great music scene, several recording studios, and a river; those are just a few of the things I saw this weekend. That’s not abnormal though, I see those things almost every day, because I live in Columbus, GA. 

This weekend though, I went to Florence, Alabama with a group of my students and a few of my friends and colleagues.

The CSU Popular Music Ensemble with Alia Torres and Lloyd Buchanan pose for a photo at the famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studio with David Hood, bassist for the Swampers (2nd from right)

The CSU Popular Music Ensemble with Alia Torres and Lloyd Buchanan pose for a photo at the famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studio with David Hood, bassist for the Swampers (2nd from right)

Florence is the largest city in a cluster that includes Muscle Shoals, Tuscambia, and Sheffield, AL. The blues legend is W.C. Handy, the university is the University of North Alabama, and the river is the Tennessee.
CSU Students exploring the display items at the WC Handy birthplace

CSU Students exploring the display items at the WC Handy birthplace

The recording studios were FAME,
The tour group at FAME Studios.

The tour group at FAME Studios.

Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, 

David Hood, bassist for the Swampers, with Lloyd Buchanan and Matthew McCabe, at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, currently under renovation

David Hood, bassist for the Swampers, with Lloyd Buchanan and Matthew McCabe, at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, currently under renovation

Sundrop, Noiseblock, the Nut House, and several others. 

Downtown Florence looks and feels a lot like downtown Columbus.  There are coffee shops, local restaurants and bars, venues, locally-owned boutiques, and a small-city feel, just like we have here.

The Muscle Shoals region has a population of about 200,000, which is smaller than our metropolitan area (which the census bureau counted as having nearly 300,000 residents as of the 2010 census).  If you include our neighbors in Alabama, our region has nearly half a million people, double what that area of North Alabama has.  They also still have their dam in the Tennessee river.  We blew up ours, but that’s OK (they don’t have whitewater!).

We travelled to Florence to explore the music scene, which has been vibrant since the 1960’s when Rick Hall opened FAME Recording Studios.

Kelly Cole, Buddy Nelms, Lloyd Buchanan, and Alia Torres at FAME Studios

Kelly Cole, Buddy Nelms, Lloyd Buchanan, and Alia Torres at FAME Studios

If you’ve heard Aretha Franklin, Rod Stewart, Etta James, Traffic, the Rolling Stones, the Drive-By Truckers, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, the Civil Wars, or the Black Keys, you have heard music that was made in Muscle Shoals (if you haven’t seen the documentary “Muscle Shoals”, released in 2012, watch it!).
CSU Students at FAME Studios

CSU Students at FAME Studios

My students and I are exploring the music of that region this semester, in my rock ’n roll class at CSU, and will be performing at The Loft on April 13th.  That was the real reason for the trip – to take the students to this fabled place — a tiny city tucked in the corner of Alabama, to experience the history that was made there as we play the music.
CSU Students Q&A with David Hood

CSU Students Q&A with David Hood

But as I pointed the front of the CSU van back towards Columbus and punched in the Schwob School of Music address, I caught some inspiration not from looking back, but from looking forward. 

Sure, Muscle Shoals has us beat on the music scene, at least in a general sense.  For now.  There’s a lot of work to do, and we have more than a few people in town who are doing it. 

The voices and sounds of our city are growing louder and more focused every day.  It’s inspiring (and a bit uncanny) to see what happened and what is still happening in Muscle Shoals, an area so similar to ours, with so many great stories. 

I know we’re not Muscle Shoals though, and we shouldn’t be — but bringing home the spirit and energy of that place and transforming it is critical.

So, here’s my rallying cry:  Buy a local musician’s CD.  Go to a concert.  Visit a recording studio.  Write a song.  Donate to the local nonprofits that are helping to build our cultural identity.

Eat and drink at local venues that support Columbus musicians.  Read the promo posters that advertise shows.  Click “Attending” on those Facebook invites and share the events.  We need your ears and eyes.

*Photos by Brad Strickland

2 Comments

  1. Brian Hite

    January 19, 2016 at 1:59 am

    That’s my hometown, and you’re right, it’s history is immense. (I hope you all got to Trowbridge’s downtown for one of their chili dogs!)

    But as someone who’s lived in three music cities: the Shoals, Macon, and now Columbus, the variety and high level of musicianship here amazes me.. Plus, the outdoor festivals, jam nights, and CSU events seem to be going on year round.

    Now if we can get behind independent artists doing original music, we will turn another corner. That’s a challenge to artists to write and perform and to venue owners to book and pay. And, of course, patrons to invest in this talent (CDs and private and public gigs).

    Keep plugging Columbus. The best is yet to come.

  2. Cherry Kersey

    January 19, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    Enjoyed the article Matthew.

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