MUSCLE SHOALS, ALABAMA: Built in the 1960s by Rick Hall, FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama was the first and most prominent studio to curate the Muscle Shoals Sound, a unique and ultimately ineffable combination of country, gospel, rock, and soul. Listed in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. FAME Studios recorded hits by Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Gregg Allman, and countless others who shaped the face of modern music. It has been in continuous service since it opened, with modern recordings by Jason Isbell, Blind Boys of Alabama, Alison Krauss, The Revialists, Keb Mo’, Demi Lovato, Steven Tyler, the Raconteurs, and Alicia Keys. FAME operations are handled by Rodney Hall, who recently teamed up with Grammy Award-winning producer and engineer Glenn Rosenstein to revitalize the control room of FAME Studio B (paired with a live room that Rosenstein considers one the best in the world) with structural changes, new equipment, and a pair of ATC SCM45A monitors.
“I was deeply influenced by the music that came out of Muscle Shoals,” recalled Rosenstein, who has worked with U2, George Clinton, The Ramones, Madonna, James Brown, Talking Heads, and others. “So, I was thrilled in the mid-1980s to get a call from the late Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section member Jimmy Johnson. He was producing an album for Lynyrd Skynyrd and asked if I would mix. We finished that project and shortly thereafter teamed up on Gary Rossington’s solo album, which cemented our friendship. We worked together over the past thirty-plus years, and recently I started spending more time in the Shoals area. When I needed to track drums or do other ‘big studio’ tasks, I went to FAME Studios and fell in love with the live room in Studio B.”
Rick Hall built Studio B in 1967 due to the overwhelming demand for Studio A. Early incarnations of what would become The Allman Brothers Band put Studio B through its paces immediately after its completion. During large Studio A sessions, Rick would record the horn arrangements in Studio B while other elements were recorded in Studio A. Hits recorded in Studio B include “Hey Joe” by Wilson Pickett, “Greenwood Mississippi” by Little Richard, “I Loved Her First” by Heartland, Sirens Of The Ditch album by Jason Isbell and Dirty South album by the Drive By Truckers. Studio B also hosted Jimi Hendrix, who recorded the song “Mojo Man” there. The song was released a year ago as part of the Jimi Hendrix People, Angels & Hell retrospective project.
In an illustrious career spanning nearly four decades, Rosenstein has worked in almost every major recording studio in the country. “FAME’s Studio B is one of the finest live rooms anywhere,” he said. “I discovered this about a year-and-a-half ago, when I was cutting vocals in B with Whitney Woerz for my record label, 600 Volt/Sony. Rodney [Hall] dropped in, I told him I was getting some of the best vocal sounds I had ever heard, despite the fact that the control room equipment was average. How was this gem of a studio not being used more frequently?”
Despite the fact that Rosenstein has a studio in Nashville and two home studios near Muscle Shoals, he felt compelled to partner with Rodney Hall & FAME to help bring Studio B to the glory it deserved. “The control room was small and needed to be refreshed,” he said. “Its original UA console had been loaned to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, and there was a control surface in its place. The next thing I knew, Rodney and I were pulling down walls to expand the size of the control room. We contacted Paul Savasta at Odyssey Pro Sound to broker our console purchase – he found us Stevie Ray Vaughan’s SSL 6000 E Series. We are in the process of restoring the original UA console to serve as a side car. Most importantly, we didn’t touch the live room”
He continued, “It was like archeology, pulling off walls that had been built on top of walls. Many of the surfaces hadn’t been exposed in over fifty years. There were a lot of smart design elements that we used to our advantage, and the room now competes with the best of modern acoustic design.” Rodney Hall added, “I’ve had people ask, ‘what would your dad think of this renovation?’ I’m sure he’d love it! He was always changing things, always updating equipment and aesthetics. We even outfitted a private lounge attached to the control room that had previously been a tape vault. So, it’s got a really cool vibe. You can hang out in there with the Otis Redding masters.”
The choice of ATC SCM45A monitors was not a difficult one for the team. “I’ve used virtually every high-end monitor available, and ATCs always speak to me,” Rosenstein said. “In this room, we’re treading lightly on the shoulders of greatness – if we’re going to equip the studio with the kind of gear that represents that kind of legacy, then ATC was a natural choice. I know that ATCs are an amazing draw that make a clear statement about the caliber of this room. Moreover, we were careful not to pigeonhole Studio B in any particular genre. We wanted a fully-modern room capable of delivering on the Muscle Shoals sound, sure, but also on anything else – EDM, pop, country, you name it. ATCs cut across genres because they reveal a true picture of the work.”
He concluded, “To go from a young fan of the Muscle Shoals sound… to now having some partnership in its most iconic studio… I never would have guessed that would be possible. But here we are, and here we go!”
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