Mississippi to Alabama

Mississippi to Alabama - Muscle Shoals

Musicians have long crossed the Alabama-Mississippi border to perform and record. Mississippians such as Albert King, Little Milton, and Pops Staples recorded at studios in Muscle Shoals and Sheffield, including those owned by Mississippi natives Rick Hall and Quin Ivy. Alabamians Jerry “Boogie” McCain, Frederick Knight and Roscoe Robinson recorded for labels in Jackson, Mississippi, while Florence native W. C. Handy encountered the blues while working in the Mississippi Delta.

Although musical traditions are often defined in terms of state boundaries, musicians have traditionally ignored such arbitrary distinctions in their pursuit of their art and careers. This has certainly been the case for the 300-mile border shared by Alabama and Mississippi. W. C. Handy, known as “the father of the blues,” and Jimmie Rodgers, “the father of country music,” heard the blues while living and working in both states. Blues and soul performers Willie King, Eddy Clearwater, Peggy Scott-Adams, Big Ike Darby, Lucille Bogan, Sir Charles Jones, Bobo Jenkins, and Big Joe Williams also lived in both Alabama and Mississippi, as did one of the earliest-born blues recording artists, Johnny “Daddy Stovepipe” Watson (born in Mobile around 1867), and Ike Zinnerman, mentor of the legendary Robert Johnson. Johnson’s Delta blues tradition was later carried on in Alabama by noted guitarist Johnny Shines. King, Williams, Shines, and Alabamians Jerry McCain, Poonanny, and Roscoe Robinson were among those who recorded in both states.

Muscle Shoals became an important showcase for regional talent after Rick Hall opened his Fame studio here in 1959. On his Fame label Hall recorded local musicians as well as Mississippians James Govan, George Soule, and George Jackson. Muscle Shoals studios also became popular destinations for national labels, including Stax and Atlantic. Albums or singles by Mississippi-associated artists Albert King, the Staple Singers, Syl Johnson, Otis Rush, Otis Clay, Fenton Robinson, James Carr, and Big Joe Williams were recorded here, as were parts of B. B. King’s King of the Blues: 1989 album, which included a track produced by Alabama’s Frederick Knight.

Mississippi strengthened its connection with Muscle Shoals in 1985 when Jackson-based Malaco Records purchased the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, which was founded in 1969 by former Fame session musicians. Malaco co-owner Tommy Couch, a native of Tuscumbia, began his music career booking bands for University of Mississippi fraternities including the Pallbearers and the Del-Rays, which featured future Muscle Shoals session musicians Jimmy Johnson and Roger Hawkins. Among the Malaco artists who recorded here were Mississippi natives Little Milton, Denise LaSalle, Mosley & Johnson, Artie “Blues Boy” White, and Dorothy Moore. Malaco also benefited from the relocation from Muscle Shoals to Jackson of songwriter George Jackson and arranger Harrison Calloway of the Muscle Shoals Horns.

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