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Ricky Skaggs at The Princess Theater

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Listen To The Music

A photographic journey into Huntsville's music scene

From Keith Richards composing "Wild Horses" in the bathroom at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio to German scientists insisting there be a Huntsville Symphony to homegrown, worldwide known talents like Matt Houck, lead singer of Phosphorescent, Carla Azar, drummer for Jack White, opera singer Susanna Phillips and 10-time Grammy Award Winners Take 6, North Alabama has a long history of creating music. Although big tech and aerospace tend to take center stage often, Alabama changed the face of music and has produced some of the greatest songs ever written. 

Opening the FAME studios in the 1960s, it was music industry legend Rick Hall that put Muscle Shoals in North Alabama on the map. Some of music’s biggest artists recorded there - The Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Paul Simon, Cher, Percy Sledge, The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Black Keys, and so many more.

The ancient Yuchi Indian tribe that used to call the area home called the Tennessee river Nunnushae which means "the river that sings." This sound coming out of Muscle Shoals and the muddy river, Hall described as "funky, hard, gutty, down to earth." The famous session musicians known as The Swampers were a big part of the studio's success. In 1969, The Swampers left FAME to set up their own studio, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, nearby in Sheffield. The Muscle Shoals Sound was also at the forefront of integrating white and black musicians; together in the studio they were making music and history.

Music Facts about Muscle Shoals:

  • The Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses" was composed by Keith Richards in a bathroom at Muscle Shoals Sound.
  • Aretha Franklin's husband made her come home to New York during her recording session in Muscle Shoals because he thought one of The Swampers was flirting with her. Franklin recorded "Never Loved A Man," "Respect," "Chain Of Fools," and many more with The Swampers.
  • "You Left the Water Running" was recorded by Otis Redding in 1967. Being a demo, it was never intended to be released, but eventually emerged in 1987.
  • Paul Simon recorded "Loves Me Like a Rock" and 'Kodachrome" (1973).
  • "Mustang Sally" was recorded by Wilson Pickett. 
  • Power ballad "When a Man Loves a Woman" was recorded by Percy Sledge (1966).
  • The Black Keys recorded "Next Girl" and "Everlasting Light" finishing their Brothers album in Muscle Shoals.
  • Both guitar rifts in "Sweet Home Alabama" came to The Swampers in a dream.

But it isn't just The Shoals that gets to claim their place in music history. Huntsville has long bred some of music's best talent, and now is setting the stage to attract talent from around the world with its level of quality music venues.

Phosphorescent lead singer and Huntsville High School graduate Matt Houck started playing guitar at an early age. His passion for music only increased with age. Phosphorescent can be found touring the US and Europe, performing on late night shows, and singing with the likes of Willie Nelson. He pays homage to his home state with the lead single "It's Hard To Be Humble (When You're From Alabama)."

Referred to as Jack White's "standout drummer," Grissom graduate Carla Azar not only plays the drums, but this musically gifted Huntsvillian also plays the guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, and sings. 

American soprano Susanna Phillips is a Huntsville native who received her music education at the Juilliard School. After completing her degree in 2004, she became a member of the prestigious Santa Fe Opera's Apprentice Program for Singers. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2008 singing Musetta in La Boheme and has returned to The Met as Pamina in The Magic Flute, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, and most recently Rosalie in Die Fledermaus.

Soulful rocker Microwave Dave, also known as Dave Gallaher, a Vietnam War veteran who served in the Air Force from 1967-1968, was so grateful to make it back home alive that he devoted the rest of his life to making music. Gallaher has become an icon on the Huntsville music scene, performing regularly since the 1980s. For over 20 years, Microwave Dave has hosted a two-hour radio show "Talking The Blues" that airs Saturdays at 8PM on WLRH and Tuesdays at 6pm on Alabama A&M's WJAB. Of course he can also be found regularly at The Nook and many venues around town. Huntsville now even has a 'Microwave Dave Day,' October 22, 2023, which raises funds for the Microwave Dave Foundation to support local music education and inspire younger area musicians. 

Grammy Award-winning songwriter and musician Kelvin Wooten's track "On It" featured on Jazmine Sullivan's album Heaux Tells won Best R&B Album in 2022.

Formed in 1980 by Claude McKnight on the campus of Oakwood College, Take 6 is another Grammy Award-winner. This a cappella gospel sextet combines jazz, doo-wop and spiritual influence in its music.

These are just a fraction of the musical talent bred right here in Huntsville.

Last year, Huntsville's newest music mecca, The Orion Amphitheater, received the 2022 Partnership in Tourism Award from the Alabama Tourism Department for their collaborative efforts with Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. "This recognition demonstrates our commitment to creating meaningful partnerships through Alabama," said Ben Lovett, CEO of TVG Hospitality. "It is our intention to celebrate the magic that was created there, and we continue to send people to the area to tour the studios and experience the authentic vibes that inspired so many great musicians and songwriters."

The City of Huntsville is taking its music scene very seriously, even hiring an official Music Officer, Matt Mandrella. Prior to moving to the Rocket City, Mandrella worked at Graceland and also spent more than a decade in Austin, Texas working for different venues and festivals. He watched those cities expand due to their commitment to music. "More music makes cities better, and the foundations for a successful music ecosystem are already in place here." Mandrella continues, "Huntsville has a unique, diverse, vibrant, and inviting music scene that significantly contributes to our local economy and employs people throughout the region. We also have world-class venues and a supportive local community packed full of musicians and enthusiastic music fans."

The City of Huntsville has officially designated September as Huntsville Music Month to celebrate its vibrant and dynamic music ecosystem. Mandrella says, "It’s an exciting time for music in Huntsville, and Huntsville Music Month is a platform that will help us continue to build excitement around all aspects of Huntsville’s music culture and shine a brighter spotlight on our awesome music scene for years to come." Huntsville Music Month is designed to spotlight public events, promote music tourism, and also to inspire the music community to create and establish new events and ideas. Mandrella continues, "The initiative also encourages locals to show their love of Huntsville music by seeing more shows, buying music at a local record store, or supporting one of the many music-related businesses and non-profits that serve Huntsville musicians."

Huntsville also comes together to celebrate Women In Music from September 15th to the 24th. Alli Johnson, 
Executive Producer of Women in Music HSV
 and Owner of 
Artemis Music Productions, says, "Huntsville is a community rich in history, arts, and music." Johnson notes, "This celebration has grown since its conception in 2018. It has become a fan favorite and this year’s 5th anniversary will bring even more variety for our city."

Johnson believes in the inspiration and opportunity Women In Music provides. "Not only can everyone come out and hear amazing performances from their neighbors, but women of all ages, races, and music genres can look forward to the chance to perform for their community."

September is an exciting month to celebrate the history and talent of North Alabama. Get out, listen and enjoy the sounds of our city. Visit huntsvillemusic.com/calendar to find out more about upcoming music events near you.

More music makes cities better, and the foundations for a successful music ecosystem are already in place here. - Huntsville Music Officer Matt Mandrella

  • Tab Benoit at Sidetracks
  • The Princess Theater
  • Ricky Skaggs at The Princess Theater
  • DeQNSue at The Orion
  • The Electric Belle
  • Kelvin Wooten at The Orion
  • Microwave Dave at The Orion