Friday, May 9, 2008

The Muscle Shoals Scene

This afternoon I'm wrestling with a travel story about my recent trip to Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It's hard for me to explain the excitement of visiting a place that's simultaneously so important and so irrelevant. The Shoals, after all, is an unattractive backwater - but that's precisely what makes what happened there at Fame with Dan Penn, Donnie Fritts, Spooner Oldham and all the rest so compelling.

Here's a fantastic bit from Peter Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music, summing up the Muscle Shoals scene:

"What you had was half a dozen enormously talented twenty-year-olds thrust upon the world stage while stranded in the backwoods of Alabama. They were too hip for their environment but too comfortable in it ever to want to break out. Dan was still storming around the countryside with the Fame rhythm section in a hearse, now billed as Dan Penn and the Pallbearers. Donnie Fritts, who had already moved to Nashville part-time to pursue an independent career as a songwriter ("I was the only one not to sign with Rick. Rick signed everybody who could write a fucking poem."), maintained an apartment in Florence that was affectionately known as Funk City and was painted black. There were names for everyone: Guy Bingo and Gene Audit, Mr. and Mrs. Weenie, and Sky High (that was Donnie), and when squares showed up on the scene, it was Ozzie and Harriet time. Donnie and Spooner and Dan hung out together constantly, referring to themselves without blinking as "a bunch of niggers."

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