“Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers. And they’ve been known to pick a song or two”
–Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sweet Home Alabama.
An estimated four hundred gold records have been recorded in the Muscle Shoals area. Many of those are thanks to Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, dubbed “the Swampers.” Some of the greatest names in rock, R&B and blues laid tracks in the original, iconic concrete-block building–the likes of Cher, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Rolling Stones and the Black Keys. The National Register of Historic Places now recognizes that building, where Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded the original version of “Free Bird” and the Rolling Stones wrote “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses.” By combing through decades of articles and music reviews related to Muscle Shoals Sound, music writer Carla Jean Whitley reconstructs the fascinating history of how the Alabama studio created a sound that reverberates across generations.
Region Your Book Covers: Alabama
What Inspired You to Write History Books?
Although I’m an Alabama native, I was raised in Jacksonville, Fla. When I returned to Alabama, I often found myself envious of the state history education my friends received. I’ve been fascinated by the history of my home state since, and I’ve spent much of my adult life absorbing the state’s history.
What Advice Would You Give Aspiring Writers?
Start writing. My biggest challenge is resisting the urge to edit myself before I’ve put anything on the page. I often allow my concerns to paralyze me in the writing process. But I try to live by a piece of advice I gleaned from Anne Lamott’s fantastic book “Bird by Bird.” Allow yourself to compose “shitty first drafts,” Lamott writes. It’s much easier to massage the words once they’re on the page!
Writing About US History Must Be Difficult, How Do You Do Your Reseach?
The hardest part is deciding on a topic! I truly love Alabama, and I believe all people can learn a great deal from those who came before them. For this particular book, though, research was especially enjoyable. Since Muscle Shoals hosted so many well-known musicians, my research involved poring over old issues of Rolling Stone, Billboard charts, album reviews, music documentaries and more. I cross referenced all of that with newspaper articles from the time and recounting the area’s history.
Carla Jean Whitley is a writer, editor and teacher based in Birmingham, Alabama, where she is managing editor of Birmingham magazine. Carla Jean founded the music blog Birmingham Box Set, and has also written for BookPage, Paste, The Birmingham News, Sky and a variety of other magazines and newspapers. Carla Jean volunteers with literacy organizations and teaches journalism at the University of Alabama and Samford University. Her favorite yoga pose is bakasana and her favorite cats are orange. Connect with her at carlajeanwhitley.com.