Historic studio re-opens to public after renovations

The historic Muscle Shoals Sound reopened its doors Jan. 16 for tourists to come in and experience. The building has hosted the likes of W.C. Handy, Percy Sledge and Sam Phillips, among others.

“I mean, you have the Rolling Stones in 1971, Paul Simon in 1973, Lynyrd Skynrd in 1977 and The Black Keys 7 years ago,” said Mike Wallace, a Muscle Shoals native of 52 years. “Those famous names, they made history without even knowing it — right within these walls.”

The newly renovated Muscle Shoals Sound Studio at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield opened its doors Jan. 9 at 10 a.m.

New and improved – yet keeping its “mo-jo”, the studio is back to recording by night.

However, the studio will be showing off its history by day.

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio will provide tours from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The cost is $12 per person. For a group over 20, the cost is $10 per person.

Junior Lakin Little said she is also excited about the artists who are part of the history of the studio.

“W.C.Handy, Sam Phillips, Percy Sledge – these icons are worldwide, and they made magic here for so many generations to enjoy,” she said. “This mo-jo must go on forever.”

Judy Hood, chairman of Muscle Shoals Music Foundation, alongside Ronald Hall, president of FAME Studio Enterprises and son of music legend Rick Hall, looked into the foundation gaining ownership of the building. They said after a lot of hard work, everything fell into place.

“The modest concrete building became one of the most influential recording studios in the world soon after the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, a.k.a. the Swampers, set up shop there in 1969,” Hood said.

The exact location on Jackson Highway was home to the Swampers from 1969 to 1978.

“At one point it was an appliance store with a used dishwasher sitting in the exact spot where Mick Jagger listened to playbacks of ‘Wild Horses,’” she said. “In the late 90s, an individual bought it and attempted to restore it as a working studio with mixed results.”

In 2013, “Muscle Shoals” a documentary about the signature sound of the Shoals streamed to Netflix, and the word was out. The history was there, but the expenses to get the studio back up and running were not, said Hood.

“Extremely generous donors, including Gene Hamby of Sheffield, stepped up to provide funds for the acquisition,” Hood said. “At this point, the building was getting old, and it was going to take a lot of donations to make it sound like it did before.”

Fortunately, Dr. Dre, rapper, record producer, entrepreneur and founder of Beats by Dr. Dre, saw the Netflix documentary and was interested in helping fund the studio.

“Dre and his partner Jimmy Lovine (of Beats Electronics) were so captivated by the film that they decided to fund the renovation of 3614 Jackson Highway,” Hood said.

Hood said the studio has been restored with “meticulous” attention to detail.

The renovators did everything they could to match the original installations made 50 years ago. Upgrades to the building were also made, such as a heating and cooling system, security and some plumbing upgrades.

Senior Kevin Williams said he is excited to check out what renovations were done to the place.

“This area has generated a lot of amazing artists — it’s not hard to see that,” he said. “I’m just glad to see an old building last a few extra years.”

Hood said she is excited about the new renovation and how they were able to keep the history within the walls. Many people around the Shoals area found their love for music from the inspiring new form of musical genre that generated here, she said.

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio won Alabama Tourism Office’s Attraction of the Year for 2017.

“I’m a sucker for happy endings,” Hood said “Maybe that’s why I love this one so much. The studio is restored with the mo-jo intact. In fact, so much passion, soul and hard work went into this that we may have even kicked it up a notch.”