This day in music, 1969, The Rolling Stones began recording at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama

Muscle Shoals Sound
Muscle Shoals Sound Studio on 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield. Photo via Nathan Watson for The Bama Buzz

52 years ago today, The Rolling Stones took a break from their 1969 tour of the United States and began a three-day recording session at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama. By the end of the sessions, The Stones had recorded three tracks for their upcoming album, “Sticky Fingers”, which would go on to be some of the band’s biggest hits. Keep reading to learn more!

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio

Muscle Shoals Sound
The now-famous facade of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama. Photo via Nathan Watson for The Bama Buzz

Nowadays, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio is an internationally-recognized recording studio—nearly synonymous with the Muscle Shoals Sound. However, when The Rolling Stones first made it there on December 2nd, 1969, the studio was not even a year old.

Located at 3614 Jackson Highway, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was a small studio formed that year by four session musicians. The musicians—Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, Jimmy Johnson and David Hood—had originally played together at FAME Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals. These musicians were part of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, a group of phenomenal studio instrumentalists known affectionately as, “The Swampers”—a term you’ve heard in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”:

Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers

And they’ve been known to pick a song or two (yes they do)

Lord they get me off so much

They pick me up when I’m feelin’ blue

Now how about you?

Sweet Home Alabama

After leaving FAME, the four founders partnered with music journalist & producer Jerry Wexler to start their own recording studio in Sheffield. In the years following the formation of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, dozens of popular artists—such as Elton John, Bob Seger, Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Glenn Frey and (of course) The Rolling Stones—made their way to the town, eager to record with the session musicians.

Enter The Rolling Stones

After wrapping up their 1969 American Tour, The Rolling Stones made their way to the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio for a quick recording session before heading to Northern California for their infamous Altamont Free Concert.

“The Stones came in, and they were a little rusty at first because they hadn’t been practicing on account of the tour. It took them some time to get in the groove. On everything they did, they’d be going in all different directions for about two or three hours. So I just took it upon myself to have the tape machine ready and get rolling as soon as they started getting good.”

Jimmy Johnson, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, during a 2009 interview with BMI

Over three-day recording sessions, The Rolling Stones recorded three tracks that would make it on their 11th studio album, “Sticky Fingers”:

Although “Sticky Fingers” wouldn’t be released until 1971, all three songs recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio would rank among The Rolling Stones’ greatest hits. In fact, Rolling Stone magazine listed two of the songs from Muscle Shoals in their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, with “Brown Sugar” coming in at #495 and “Wild Horses” at #334. 

What is your favorite song recorded at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio? Tag us @thebamabuzz to let us know!

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Nathan Watson

Tennessee native who fell in love with Birmingham during college. Graduated from Birmingham-Southern College in 2019. Passionate about Birmingham and its continued growth.

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