Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield, Ala. — where the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Seger and others recorded classic songs — has closed.
The studio, owned since 1985 by Malaco Records, was shuttered last month, it has emerged; a film production company is in the final stages of purchasing the building.
Musicians Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, Barry Beckett and Roger Hawkins, known collectively as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, founded Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in 1969. A Rolling Stones session there featuring sideman Jim Dickinson, who played on “Wild Horses,” is featured in the film “Gimme Shelter,” which documents the band’s 1969 U.S. tour.
In 1978, the facility moved to a 31,000-square-foot building in Sheffield.
Malaco Records principal Wolf Stephenson explains that he and his partners were more interested in acquiring Muscle Shoals Sound Publishing, a catalog that includes “Old Time Rock & Roll” and “Torn Between Two Lovers,” than the recording studio. “To be quite frank with you,” Stephenson tells Billboard.Biz, “the only reason we bought the studio was, the banks we were dealing with wouldn’t loan us the money on the publishing company; they didn’t have any idea what it was. It was just a stack of paper to them.”
The two-room facility was used extensively by Malaco artists, Stephenson adds, but the last four years saw a sharp decline in outside projects. “When computer and hard-disk recording really got cheap and better at the same time, it just knocked the socks off a lot of studios, [Muscle Shoals] included. It was just a very difficult thing to compete with.”
Muscle Shoals was put up for sale on Internet auction site eBay in 2004. The asking price of $650,000 — which included the building, property and equipment — yielded no serious offers, Stephenson says. The studio’s two Neve consoles have been sold to studios in Detroit and Los Angeles.
Muscle Shoals is just one of several high-profile studios that have closed in 2005. The Hit Factory in New York will close at the end of this month. Cello Studios in L.A. closed suddenly on Jan. 28; its future is uncertain. Royaltone Studios, also in L.A., ceased operation as a commercial facility Feb. 18; it has been purchased by a private company of which artist/producer Linda Perry is a principal.