Jimmy Iovine and Luke Wood were so moved by the “Muscle Shoals” documentary, they’re putting up money to make sure the unique spirit of the Alabama music haven lives on.
The Beats Electronics officials are starting a program to refurbish and upgrade two historic studios in Muscle Shoals – FAME Recording Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio – then will install education programs to train a new generation of producers, audio engineers and musicians.
“We want to look back at another Muscle Shoals revival based on what was learned in these studios in the next five to 10 years,” said Wood, president of Beats.
Muscle Shoals, a quiet town in the northern part of the state, was a focal point of the music world for more than two decades. The town offered a wellspring of local talent that eventually got the attention of the biggest recording artists in the world. The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Willie Nelson and a surprisingly diverse group of artists made some of the best music of their careers working with FAME owner Rick Hall and the musicians he assembled in a long, prolific run.
North Alabama remains a fertile musical proving ground, with a thriving scene that includes Jason Isbell, Alabama Shakes and John Paul White, one-half of The Civil Wars. The Black Keys recently recorded their Grammy-winning album “Brothers” there in 2009. It was the first album recorded at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in 30 years. The building had fallen into disrepair, however, something Iovine and Wood discovered while doing more research on Muscle Shoals after watching Greg “Freddy” Camalier’s documentary.
Beats, in association with the Muscle Shoals Soul Foundation, will refurbish the building and install modern and vintage recording gear so future students can learn old and new techniques in the art of sound recording. Iovine, the Beats co-founder and Interscope Geffen A&M chairman who got his start as a producer, feels that art is being forgotten in the age of Pro Tools.
“It’s not as much about the building. It’s the aesthetic and the culture we’re trying to maintain,” Iovine said. “It’s been passed down. That’s why it’s so good to have these places around the world because it’s a tribal thing, there’s a culture being passed down.”
Beats also will make upgrades to FAME where Hall, a protege of Sun Records’ Sam Phillips, housed a series of bands that helped write rock `n’ roll, soul and R&B history. One of those bands was The Swampers, whose members later opened the rival Sound Studio.
Beats will offer successful applicants the chance to work and learn in both studios when the restoration is complete. A portion of holiday sales of the company’s audio products will kick off the project.
“It’s a restoration project, but we don’t want it to be a museum,” Wood said. “We want it to be a living, breathing place where magic can happen again.”