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Muscle Shoals
Location of Muscle Shoals in Colbert County, Alabama
Location of Muscle Shoals in Colbert County, Alabama
Country United States
State Alabama
County Colbert
Established April 23, 1923
Incorporated April 24, 1923
 • Type Mayor/Council
 • City 16.82 sq mi (43.57 km2)
 • Land 16.80 sq mi (43.52 km2)
 • Water 0.02 sq mi (0.05 km2)
499 ft (152 m)
 • City 16,275
 • Density 968.58/sq mi (373.96/km2)
 • Metro
147,317 (US: 281st)
Time zone UTC−6 (Central Time Zone)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP codes
35660(obsolete), 35661, 35662
Area codes 256, 938
FIPS code 01-53016
GNIS feature ID 0152574

Muscle Shoals is the largest city in Colbert County, Alabama, United States. It is located along the Tennessee River in the northern part of the state and, as of the 2010 census, the population of Muscle Shoals was 13,146. The estimated population in 2019 was 14,575.

Both the city and the Florence-Muscle Shoals Metropolitan Area (including four cities in Colbert and Lauderdale counties) are commonly called "the Shoals". Northwest Alabama Regional Airport serves the Shoals region, located in the northwest section of the state.

Due to its strategic location along the Tennessee River, Muscle Shoals had long been territory of historic Native American tribes. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, as Europeans entered the area in greater number, it became a center of historic land disputes. The new state of Georgia had ambitions to anchor its western claims (to the Mississippi River) by encouraging European-American development here, but that project did not succeed.

Under President Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration during the Great Depression, the Tennessee Valley Authority was established to create infrastructure and jobs, resulting in electrification of a large rural area along the river. The Ford Motor Company did build and operate a plant for many years in the Listerhill community, three miles east of Muscle Shoals; it closed in 1982 as part of industrial restructuring when jobs moved out of the country.

Since the 1960s, the city has been known for music. Local studios and artists developed the "Muscle Shoals Sound", including FAME Studios in the late 1950s and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in 1969.


There are several explanations on how the city got its name. One is that the city gets its name from a former natural feature of the Tennessee River, namely a shallow zone where mussels were gathered. When the area was first settled, the distinct spelling "mussel" to refer to a shellfish had not yet been fully adopted. Another is that the name comes from the bend of the Tennessee River around the area, the shape of which looks like someone flexing an arm muscle.


The city is one of four municipalities known as the Quad Cities, the others being Florence, Sheffield and Tuscumbia, all in Alabama.

Muscle Shoals was a part of the Cherokee hunting grounds dating to at least the early eighteenth century, if not earlier. After the American Revolution, the Cherokees were divided over attitudes toward the new U.S. republic. An anti-American faction, dubbed the Chickamauga, separated from more conciliatory Cherokees, and moved into present-day south-central and southeastern Tennessee, most of them settling along the Chickamauga River. They claimed Muscle Shoals as part of their domain, and when Anglo-Americans attempted to settle the region in the 1780s and 1790s, the Chickamaugas bitterly resisted them. Upper Creeks, residing in what is now north and central Alabama, also resented any European or Euro-American presence in the region. A major incident occurred in 1790, when U.S. President George Washington sent an expedition under Major John Doughty in an attempt to establish a fort and trading post at Muscle Shoals. This expedition was nearly annihilated by a Chickamauga and Creek party sent to destroy it, and the project was abandoned by Doughty and the administration.

Anglo-American settlers in Tennessee continued to agitate for control of the region. The site was particularly desirable, as it controlled access to fine cotton-producing land immediately to its south. In 1797, John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee, complained to Andrew Jackson that "The prevention of a settlement at or near the Muscle Shoals is a manifest injury done the whole western country." At Sevier's behest, Jackson attempted to persuade Congress and President John Adams to fund a new expedition to take control of the site, but to no avail. U.S. officials finally took control of the region in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Creek country during the War of 1812. Jackson and General John Coffee obtained cession of the land from both the Cherokee and Creek (who had continued to dispute possession) by treaty, without permission to do so from the federal government. Secretary of War William H. Crawford refused to recognize the cession, and reconfirmed Cherokee ownership, leading to personal enmity between him and Jackson, and causing a political struggle over the lands which Jackson and his backers eventually won. When Jackson, as President, implemented the policy of Indian Removal, Muscle Shoals was used as a site from which to ship Upper Creeks out to Oklahoma (then Indian Territory).

During World War I President Wilson authorized a dam just downstream of Muscle Shoals to help power nitrate plants for munitions. The first plant started producing nitrates two weeks after the armistice, but the dam was not completed until 1924. Meanwhile, in 1922 Henry Ford tried to buy the nitrate works and the unfinished dam. Congress rejected Ford's offer as too low. The project languished until the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration created the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933.


Muscle Shoals is known for recording many hit songs from the 1960s to today at two studios: FAME Studios, founded by Rick Hall, where Arthur Alexander, Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding and numerous others recorded; and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, founded by the musicians known as The Swampers, which developed work for Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, the Rolling Stones and others. While the music from the area is often referred to as the "Muscle Shoals Sound", all four of the Quad Cities have significantly contributed to the area's musical history.

In addition to being home to country music band Shenandoah, a number of artists have visited Muscle Shoals to write and record. Both FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio are still in operation in the city. While famous for classic recordings from Rod Stewart, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Rolling Stones, and The Allman Brothers, recent hit songs such as "Before He Cheats" by Carrie Underwood and "I Loved Her First" by Heartland continue the city's musical legacy. George Michael recorded an early, unreleased version of "Careless Whisper" with Jerry Wexler in Muscle Shoals in 1983. Bettye Lavette recorded her Grammy nominated album "Scene of the Crime" at FAME in 1972.

Fans of Muscle Shoals music visit the local landmarks. While most of the city's recording studios are still active, the majority will allow tours with an appointment. Further, a number of rock, R&B and country music celebrities have homes in the area surrounding Muscle Shoals (Tuscumbia), or riverside estates along the Tennessee River, and often perform in area nightclubs, typically rehearsing new material.

Unusual was the cross-pollination of musical styles that originated in Muscle Shoals. Black artists from the area such as Arthur Alexander and James Carr used white country music styles in their work, and white artists from the Shoals frequently borrowed from the blues/gospel influences of their black contemporaries, creating a distinct sound.

Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, lived in the area and stated in his autobiography that Muscle Shoals (primarily radio station WLAY (AM), which had both "white" and "black" music on its playlist) influenced his merging of these sounds at Sun Records with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash.

Rolling Stone editor David Fricke wrote that if one wanted to play a single recording that would "epitomize and encapsulate the famed Muscle Shoals Sound", that record would be "I'll Take You There" by The Staple Singers in 1972.

When Bob Dylan told his record label that he intended to record Christian music, the initially dismayed label executives insisted that if he planned to pursue the project, he must, at least, record the work in Muscle Shoals, as they felt it would provide the work "some much-needed credibility". (Dylan was not previously known for his overtly religious pronouncements, and some were worried that his efforts would be taken as satirical; recording in the Bible Belt, it was thought, might avert a disaster.) Dylan subsequently recorded two Christian albums in The Shoals. The resulting albums, Slow Train Coming (1979) and Saved (1980), were recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios.

The members of the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section were Pete Carr (lead guitar), Jimmy Johnson (guitar), Roger Hawkins (drums), David Hood (bass guitar) and Barry Beckett (keyboards).

More recently, Florence native Patterson Hood, son of "Swamper" David Hood, has found fame in his own right as a member of the alternative rock group Drive-By Truckers. The top two finishing finalists on the 2007 season of country-music singing competition Nashville Star, siblings Zac Hacker (second place) and Angela Hacker (winner), are from Muscle Shoals. In 2008, State Line Mob, a Southern rock duo group formed by singer and songwriters Phillip Crunk (Florence native) and Dana Crunk (Rogersville native), released their first CD, Ruckus, and won two Muscle Shoals Music Awards for 2008 for (Best New Artist) and Best New Country Album) of the year. Band of Horses recorded a portion of their massive hit album "Infinite Arms" at Muscle Shoals. Artists which are signed to the label in 2017 are: Holli Mosley, Dylan LeBlanc, Jason Isbell, Angela Hacker, Gary Nichols, and James LeBlanc.

Although Muscle Shoals has receded somewhat from its 1960s and 1970s status as "Hit Recording Capital of the World" (as a sign near the airport once read), there is a group of young, local musicians that are making waves again in the musical world. These include Drive-By Truckers, The Civil Wars, Dylan LeBlanc, Gary Nichols, Jason Isbell, State Line Mob, Eric "Red Mouth" Gebhardt, Fiddleworms, and BoomBox.

The original Muscle Shoals Sound Studios were located at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield but that site was closed when the business rel ocated to 1000 Alabama Avenue in Sheffield. The studio in that building closed in 2005 and now houses a movie production company.

Muscle Shoals is also where The Black Keys filmed their music video for Lonely Boy. It was recorded just outside a motel, and stars a security guard named Derrick T. Tuggle, who is dancing and lip-singing the song. He says he knew the band personally, and had a BBQ restaurant across the street from their recording studio.

FAME Recording Studios Muscle Shoals
FAME Recording Studios in Muscle Shoals (photograph by Carol M. Highsmith)

Sister city Florence, Alabama, is frequently referred to as "the birthplace of the Blues". W. C. Handy was born in Florence and is generally regarded as the "Father of the Blues". Every year since 1982, the W. C. Handy Music Festival is held in the Florence/Sheffield/Muscle Shoals area, featuring blues, jazz, country, gospel, rock music and R&B. The roster of jazz musicians known as the "Festival All-Stars", or as the W. C. Handy Jazz All-Stars, includes noted musicians from all over the United States, such as guitarist Mundell Lowe, drummer Bill Goodwin, pianist/vocalist Johnny O'Neal, vibraphone player Chuck Redd, pianist/vocalist Ray Reach, and flutist Holly Hofmann.

On January 6, 2010, Muscle Shoals was added to the Mississippi Blues Trail.

3614 Jackson Highway Studio

The original location of Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since June 2006. From the early 2000s to 2013, it had been partly restored and open for tours. In 2013, the documentary Muscle Shoals (film) raised public interest in a major restoration of the original studio. In the same year, the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation was formed to raise funds to purchase the building and to complete major renovations. In June 2013, Noel Webster who was then the owner of 3614 Jackson Highway (since 1999), sold the property, without the historic recording equipment, to the Muscle Shoals Music Foundation. The foundation praised the contribution made to the project by Sheffield resident, attorney Gene Hambey.

A large grant from Beats Electronics, a manufacturer of headphones and similar devices (owned by Apple inc.) founded by Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine, provided an essential $1 million. State tourism director Lee Sentell told the media in August 2015 that the 2013 Muscle Shoals (film) had significant influence. "The financial support from Beats is a direct result of their film." Additional donations were made by other groups and individuals. In 2015, Rodney Hall, a foundation Board member, reminded fans of the value of the additional donations. "The foundation was able to purchase the building through the generosity of private investors like Gene Hamby, who understand the importance of preserving the legacy of Muscle Shoals music."

As recently as August 2015, tours were visiting the partly-restored studio on Jackson Highway. It was closed when major restoration work started in September 2015. Muscle Shoals Sound Studio reopened as a finished tourist attraction on January 9, 2017. Owned and operated by the foundation, the interior is reminiscent of the 1970s, with relevant recording equipment and paraphernalia. There are plans for allowing artists to record music again.

Even before the Jackson Highway studio reopened, The Alabama Tourism Department named Muscle Shoals Sound Studio as the state's top attraction in 2017.

The Swampers

In the song "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, a verse states:

Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers.

And they've been known to pick a song or two.
Lord, they get me off so much,

They pick me up when I'm feelin' blue.

Affectionately called The Swampers, The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section was a local group of first-call studio musicians (initially working at FAME and then at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios) who were available for back-up. They were given the nickname The Swampers by music producer Denny Cordell during the Leon Russell sessions because of their "funky, soulful Southern “swamp” sound".

When Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios once early in their career, they saw the various gold and platinum records on the walls bearing the words "To The Swampers", and later included it in the song as a tribute.


Muscle Shoals is located on the south bank of the Tennessee River at 34°45′03″N 87°39′01″W / 34.750788°N 87.650278°W / 34.750788; -87.650278.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 15.6 square miles (40.3 km2), of which 0.02 square miles (0.05 km2), or 0.13%, is water.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1930 719
1940 1,113 54.8%
1950 1,937 74.0%
1960 4,084 110.8%
1970 6,907 69.1%
1980 8,911 29.0%
1990 9,611 7.9%
2000 11,924 24.1%
2010 13,156 10.3%
2020 16,275 23.7%
U.S. Decennial Census

2020 census

Muscle Shoals racial composition
Race Num. Perc.
White (non-Hispanic) 11,788 72.43%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 2,802 17.22%
Native American 79 0.49%
Asian 284 1.75%
Pacific Islander 1 0.01%
Other/Mixed 719 4.42%
Hispanic or Latino 602 3.7%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 16,275 people, 5,371 households, and 3,738 families residing in the city.

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 13,146 people, 5,321 households, and 3,769 families residing in the city. The population density was 845.4 per square mile (326.4/km2). There were 5,653 housing units at an average density of 363.5 per square mile (140.4/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 80.6% White, 15.3% Black or African American, 0.3% Native American, 0.9% Asian, 1.3% from other races, and 1.6% Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.7% of the population.

There were 5,321 households, out of which 31.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.4% were married couples living together, 12.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.2% were non-families. 26.2% of all households were made up of individuals, and 11.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.44 and the average family size was 2.93.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 23.6% under the age of 18, 8.1% from 18 to 24, 24.9% from 25 to 44, 27.3% from 45 to 64, and 16.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40.1 years. For every 100 females, there were 90.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.9 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $48,134, and the median income for a family was $60,875. Males had a median income of $41,061 versus $37,576 for females. The per capita income for the city was $23,237. About 8.3% of families and 10.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 19.9% of those under age 18 and 4.8% of those age 65 or over.


The city is served by Northwest Alabama Regional Airport, which is one mile east from the town and is served by one commercial airline.

Notable people

  • Jason Allen, former University of Tennessee and former NFL player
  • Boyd Bennett, rockabilly singer
  • Levi Colbert, Chickasaw Bench Chief
  • Rece Davis, ESPN commentator (QB for the Trojans' football squad)
  • Alecia Elliott, country music singer
  • Dennis Homan, Alabama All-America wide receiver and Dallas Cowboys' player
  • Patterson Hood, singer-songwriter, co-founder of the Drive-By Truckers
  • Ozzie Newsome, American football player, former general manager & executive VP for the Baltimore Ravens
  • Gary Nichols, country music singer
  • Leigh Tiffin, American football placekicker
  • Chris Tompkins, songwriter
  • Steve Trash, magician
  • Kim Tribble, country music songwriter
  • John Wyker, musician
  • Rachel Wammack, country music singer-songwriter
  • Donna Godchaux, singer for the Grateful Dead from 1972-1979
  • Gary Baker (songwriter), country music singer-songwriter
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