Sunday, September 22, 2013

'Muscle Shoals' Documentary Flexes Its Influence

The name Muscle Shoals isn’t a household name – yet!  But, anyone who is a music aficionado knows very well the significance of this influential music company.

A documentary aptly called, Muscle Shoals tells the story of a place filled with magic and music, legend and folklore, where the river is inhabited by a Native American spirit who has lured some of the greatest Rock and Roll and Soul legends of all time, and drawn from them some of the most uplifting, defiant, and important music ever created.  

In Muscle Shoals, Alabama, music runs through the hills, the river, and the spirit of the people.  It is a place where, even before the Civil Rights Movement really took shape, the color of one’s skin didn't matter inside the studio.  

The story of Rick Hall, who founded FAME Studios, is fascinating.  Overcoming crushing poverty and staggering tragedies, Hall is responsible for creating what came to be known as the "Muscle Shoals sound" and The Swampers, the house band at FAME that eventually left to start their own successful studio. 

The musicians and artists who waltzed through Muscle Shoals is like a who’s who.

Jimmy Cliff, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Alicia Keys, Wilson Pickett, The Rolling Stones, Bob Seger, Paul Simon, The Staple Singers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Percy Sledge and countless other stars were all lured to the remote and mystical place in the backwoods of Alabama.

The documentary includes raw and candid interviews, inspiring music, live performances, and the magic of the milieu itself capture and convey this tale.  Interviewees include legendary musicians Gregg Allman, Bono, Clarence Carter, Jimmy Cliff, Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, Alicia Keys, Ed King, Keith Richards, Percy Sledge, and Steve Winwood and many others.

Muscle Shoals is directed by Greg 'Freddy" Camalier, edited by Richard Lowe, produced and executive produced by Stephen Badger and Greg "Freddy" Camalier.

I caught up with Camalier to talk about the doc.
DD: I totally loved this documentary. Why did you decide to bring this story to the big screen? 

GFC:  It really chose us more than it chose me.

DD: Did you always know about the town of Muscle Shoals?

GFC: We stumbled on the town by happenstance one night. We knew some of the music. But what we found blew us away. We started researching. We couldn’t believe the history that had gone on down there. I ccouldn’t believe this story had not been told.

DD: Describe the Muscle Shoals sound.

GFC: I describe it as very raw and living, breathing. I see the human quality of it. It’s a propulsive groove that is funky.

DD: What is the secret behind Muscle Shoals?

GFC:  I think it’s the human element. It’s the guys and how they approached music. You hear people’s souls not garbled up or hidden or processed. That’s part of it. That’s a complicated question. You feel the human spirit in that music.
DD: Are you a music fan? 

GFC: Yes. I love so many types of music. I don’t have one. So many genres. It’s not so much the genre.

DD: What’s in your IPOD right now?

GFC: obviously Muscle Shoals tracks. I mix it up with a bunch of other music. Citizen Cope, some funk, The Raw Contours, The White Stripes, Biz Markie, Alicia Keys, Brandy Carlisle, Candi Staton, Clarence Carter, Dylan, Aretha, Civil Wars.

DD: You directed and produced this doc.  Why did you think this was an important story to tell?

GFC: Because it’s such a massive story. It’s American history really. By the sheer magnitude and all the genres of music, there was a huge audience. Incredible characters.

DD: You have some great artists in this doc. Was there anyone you wanted to get, that you couldn’t get?

GFC: You feel bad because there were so many musicians. This is just a small spattering of the people who came out of Muscle Shoals. So many people who were part of the story. We couldn’t make the movie eight hours.

DD:  Why do you think Muscle Shoals has not received as much recognition as Motown?

GFC: Good question. It’s contribution is on par with all other musical stories. It’s been under the radar. After this is released, it will no longer be under the radar.

DD: What did you know about Muscle Shoals before deciding to do the documentary?

GFC: I knew only three artists. I knew Lynyrd Skynyrd, Duane Allman (The Allman Brothers) and Clarence Carter. That’s all I knew. I was familiar with other music, but I didn’t know it came from there.

DD: Were you surprised by anything you found out during interviews or at any time while putting this doc together?
GFC: All the time. I will be learning new things until the day I die.

DD: What I loved about the documentary was how the studio was colorblind.  I’d hate to think it was just because green was a more important color than black or white. Your thoughts?

GFC: I think in the beginning when we asked the question we were suspect. Then as we went on everyone was describing the same thing. By the time we got to the 15th we started to believe.  It was just these guys’ essence. They didn’t think in small terms. They were actualized people who thought color didn’t matter.

DD: How long did it take to pull this doc together?

GFC: About three and a half years. The average time is like nine years. You gotta get to all these people and you have to find the story as you go. Some people are hard to get a hold of. You gotta pull it all together. I feel fortunate.

DD: What are your thoughts about the music industry today?
GFC: Music today? I don’t know. It’s just rapidly changing. I don’t think the quality of digital is as good as analog. Everything about it is different.

Muscle Shoals opens nationwide, September 27. It has a running time of 111 minutes.

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