The Call of Muscle Shoals

It was the flight back from my mother’s funeral and I was beyond exhaustion.

Every ounce of energy had left my body.  I was fully depleted but ever so grateful the plane was only half full, resulting in the middle seat not being assigned. I really couldn’t have coped with someone shoved up against me for nearly three hours.

The journey wouldn’t have even started if my friend hadn’t volunteered to cancel his clients and accompany me to Mum’s funeral, a gift I will never forget.  I had been so depleted of energy that I knew I would have a complete breakdown getting through an international airport alone.  So my friend said he would take me.

It had been a whirlwind three days and we could have either talked about it or talked about nothing at all.  The latter seemed the most appropriate.  

My friend had now wandered off to find the loo and I had grown tired of looking through the oval aeroplane window to the clouds below.

As New Zealand turned to a speck on the horizon, the only other thing I was capable of doing to fill the flight time until touching down in Melbourne Australia was to randomly surf the inflight movie channel.

I really didn’t have the brain power nor want to actually watch anything, but the peace gained between the earbuds on a long haul flight can be the greatest gift.

As I cruised through the usual trite sitcoms and mindless movies, my curiosity was aroused when I saw an image of a sunburst Fender Stratocaster guitar alongside the words Muscle Shoals.  The trailer showed a cameo of Keith Richards speaking about the magic the Rolling Stones experienced at Muscle Shoals.

One click immediately transported me to a place of safety, music and dreams.  I was totally immersed within seconds!

I didn’t even notice my friend return from the loo.  I think he would have been relieved to find me totally enthralled by the story of this tiny recording studio in Muscle Shoals Alabama.

Like many, I had always assumed the R&B hits of the 60’s had come from big city studios.  It was a real shock to realise so many of the songs I absolutely adored and had shaped my life had come out of a tiny studio in a country backwater in one of American’s most segregated southern states.  To learn this was the place where Aretha Franklin sat at the piano and recorded “I’ve Never Loved a Man”, the song she describes as the turning point in her career was amazing for me.

Every part of the documentary spoke to me in ways that I really needed to hear.

At 3 am earlier that day as I had sat exhausted, yet wide awake safely wrapped in Dad’s big chair, the idea for a book had suddenly downloaded into my brain.  It arrived like a small pin prick, a tiny dot of ink that spread to reveal the whole book.  I knew I had no chance of recording what was coming into my thoughts, or even for now remembering what came flooding in.  But I also knew the information would come back out when the time was right.

As the Muscle Shoals movie finished with Alicia Keys performing a Bob Dylan song  with the original members of “The Swampers”, a name given to the Muscle Shoals house band by Leon Russell’s producer.  The name was rocked in stone by the Lynyrd Skynyrd hit Sweet Home Alabama.  As I watched Alicia sit at the big black grand piano in the Fame Studio accompanied by some of the original members of the Swampers and the gospel choir from the Galilee Missionary Baptist Church in Leighton performing a Bob Dylan song called “I’m Pressing On”, I absolutely knew, despite some pretty dark thoughts that had been running through my head in the past few months, I absolutely knew a higher power was telling me to just “keep pressing on”.

During that song a voice within me said to go and write my book in Muscle Shoals because the river needed to talk me while I wrote it.

When I got home I just got sicker and sicker and truly struggled on every level.  I knew I’d not be able to fly back to the USA until I got well.

Three years later and a lot of struggle to find the answers to what’s been wrong me ….. there is now some glimmer of hope on the horizon that I’ll be able to return and see what the river has to say.

In the meantime I’ve watched that Muscle Shoals movie again many, many times and have had so many insights into why this little studio created some of the best music on the planet.

Cosmic forces were colliding and the time was right to shape a generation with the particular style of music that was to come out of that small town with the river that speaks.

As my health slowly returns the urge to at least visit Muscle Shoals has never gone away.

Sometimes you just got to follow the messages and see what’s there.

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