There’s something about the water in northwest Alabama. The area informally known as The Shoals encompasses four towns along the Tennessee River — Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield and Tuscumbia — each with its own famous sound. Infused with the glamour of ’60s and 70s rock gods, Muscle Shoals became the hit recording capital of the world at FAME Recording Studios, where artists ranging from Aretha Franklin to Alicia Keys have recorded; mingle around the same organ used in Wilson Pickett’s Mustang Sally.
Next, explore the tiny Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Sheffield, where the famed rhythm section known as the Swampers recorded with legends including the Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Paul Simon and Cher, who used the studio’s address (3614 Jackson Highway) as an album title and the building as cover art in 1969. End your day at Florence’s FloBama, which serves up barbecue, burgers and smoking-hot, modern-day bands.
- FAME Recording Studios; 603 E. Avalon Ave., Muscle Shoals; 256-381-0801;
- Muscle Shoals Sound Studios 3614 Jackson Highway, Sheffield; 256-978-5151;
- FloBama: 311 N. Court St, Florence; 256-764- 2225;
- Devil’s Crossroads, 599 N. State St
- Delta Blues Museum, 1 Blues Alley; 662-627-6820;
- Rock & Blues Museum, 113 E. Second St; 662-524-5144;
- Ground Zero Blues Club, 387 Delta Ave.; 662-621-9009;
- The Shack Up Inn on Hopson Plantation, 001 Commissary Circle; 662-624-8492, shackupinn.com
In Mississippi’s Delta, a distinctive sign marks the spot of the Devil’s Crossroads in Clarksdale, where bluesman Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil in exchange for supernatural guitar licks.
Poke around a bit in this sleepy village to uncover the Delta Blues and the Rock & Blues museums, which trace the rise of both genres. Rhythmic songs rose out of the surrounding cotton fields by day and wafted into the juke joints at night.
Blues and rock ’n’ roll take the stage along with a mess of fried catfish and steamy tamales at Ground Zero Blues Club, an eatery coowned by actor and Delta resident Morgan Freeman. When the fireflies come out, relax on the porch of a 1930s-style sharecroppers’ cottage at The Shack Up Inn on Hopson Plantation, where blues and rock musicians all jam.