Part of the excitement of living in The Shoals is seeing how the area has changed over the years. Though we have such an impressive collection of musicians in the area—musicians who have been an important part of the American musical landscape—when I was young, it was difficult to find a place to hear live music. There were family gatherings with guitars and impromptu songwriters’ nights—but there was no real place for people to gather and listen to a live band. On the flipside, local musicians—whether upcoming or established—had no place to play, reach their audiences, and try out new material.
The renowned FAME and Muscle Shoals Sound musicians were primarily studio session players. They created iconic sounds, but often during business hours and behind closed session doors. Because those musical talents were being developed in studios and not in bars or venues, we never had much of a music “scene” to speak of. This directly impacted the musicians who eventually founded Single Lock Records. Each learned their trade in makeshift music venues like garages, house shows, or anywhere that would have them.
That is why The Shoals’ newest music venue 116 E. Mobile (conveniently, the physical address) gives locals and visitors a place to see musicians from at home and abroad in a comfortable space. 116 (as it is often called) is located in downtown Florence and is owned and operated by Single Lock Records, in tandem with Billy Reid.
A little musical (and visual) interlude for this cold and snowy Friday—listen to this newly released track from one of our studio favorites, Alabama Shakes. Along with a beautiful video designed by Mario Hugo—half of our husband and wife, New York-based design and web team, Hugo + Marie.
My daughter Maggie is obsessed with holiday music. For her, it’s never too early to display a wreath (hung throughout the year in her bedroom) or to enjoy a loudly sung Christmas carol. When she was only three and in nursery school, holiday songs were go-to sing alongs—just after we finished, “Here Comes Peter Cottontail,” we would begin with “Here Comes Santa Claus.”
Over the years, her tastes became more sophisticated: we listened to Etta James wail out “Winter Wonderland” on any given Memorial Day and Fiona Apple’s version of “Frosty the Snowman” on a last summer jaunt to the beach. I’m hoping to introduce her to Darlene Love’s holiday catalogue over the upcoming school holidays.
This year, she is creating her own versions—armed with almost a year of piano lessons under her belt and stacks of holiday sheet music. We will let you know how it all turns out next year.
Happy holidays from Maggie and me,
xoNatalie and Maggie
Here at Alabama Chanin, we continue to be drawn to the distinct and historical Dust-to-Digital catalog. Dust-to-Digital is a unique recording company that serves to combine rare recordings with historical images and descriptive texts, resulting in cultural artifacts. We have previously written about several of their collections that resonate so well with our brand. We believe in preserving traditions, and Dust-to-Digital truly speaks to that with their historically rich albums.
I Belong to this Band: 85 Years of Sacred Harp Recordings is a moving glimpse into the history of Sacred Harp singing and its deep Southern ties. Compiled by Matt Hinton and Lance Ledbetter, this CD features 30 recordings as varied as the earliest recordings of the genre from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. It also includes a pleasant mix of home recordings made by small groups of singers in the 1950s as well as contemporary recordings of all-day singings.
The music that flows through our community is nothing short of amazing. I’ve written many times about the rich musical history of The Shoals area—and I’m proud of all the up and coming artists, producers, and managers that strive to create great music in our hometown (including members of the Alabama Chanin staff).
Our graphic designer, Maggie, and her husband, Daniel, are gaining attention with their new rock ‘n roll band Daniel Elias + Exotic Dangers. Below, they share how they got involved with music, along with some of their favorite songs.
Name(s): Daniel and Maggie Crisler
Band: Daniel Elias + Exotic Dangers Instrument(s) you play: Daniel – guitar, harmonica, vocals; Maggie – electric organ and percussion
Hometown: Daniel – Florence, AL; Maggie – Sheffield, AL
Presently residing: Florence, AL
AC: When did you start playing music?
DC: I remember my pop first teaching me a couple of chords on the guitar around age eight. I learned the piano, as well. The Blues was and is my first musical love, so that’s what I learned, forming the foundation for everything I play—no matter what the style is. I played (and still do) in the church band for many years before writing my first song or playing my first rock ‘n roll show.
MC: I’ve always loved music. When I was growing up, I heard a lot of Motown and classic rock because that’s what my parents listened to. I started playing piano when I was six and took lessons for about ten years. In that ten years, I also learned to play violin, clarinet, and bass guitar. I picked up the keys again when Daniel bought me a vintage Farfisa organ and asked me to play with him in a new project (which developed into this band).
Nashville-based duo Great Peacock, formed by Alabama native Blount Floyd and Mississippi-born Andrew Nelson, combine rock and roll guitars with country influences and a heavy dose of harmony. The result is what Nelson calls “pop, with folk tendencies.” In the past year, they have tackled a heavy touring schedule, making appearances on Paste’s South by Southwest stage, PBS’ Bluegrass Underground, and Music City Roots. Blount put together this playlist, inspired by the hours spent in their touring van and it includes some of their most listened-to songs. He laughed, “These are some of the songs we jam out to while chasing the rock-and-roll dragon.”
Name(s): Blount Floyd and Andrew Nelson
Band: Great Peacock
Instrument(s) you play: BF – vocals, acoustic git-fiddle, keyboard, drums and percussion; AN – vocals and guitar
Place of Birth/Hometowns: BF – Dothan, Alabama; AN – Floewood, Mississippi
Presently residing: Nashville, Tennessee
AC: When did you start playing music?
AN: I started playing when I was about 15.
BF: I started playing fiddle around age 10 and my parents have some horrible home videos of me wearing a Garth Brooks-style western shirt, squeaking away something awful. I started playing guitar around the 8th grade.
AC: What are some of your proudest moments as a musician (or in your life)?
BF: Playing Bluegrass Underground was a pretty surreal experience.
AN: Every time I write a new song that won’t get out of my head. There’s the same excitement and pride that follows every time. It’s the ultimate drug.
In December of 2012, songwriter and musician Beck released an “album” called Song Reader that challenged modern recording industry standards and the traditional definition of what an album should be. With Song Reader Beck took a unique approach by releasing 20 songs in sheet music format and asking artists to interpret and record them as they saw fit.
The concept is – at its core – a DIY approach to songwriting and an invitation to other artists to participate in a collective music-making experience. We view the approach as very much aligned with our embrace of open sourcing. All art is interpreted through the lens of the viewer or listener; this takes things a step further by inviting the audience to actively interpret the art.
Beck seemed excited about the possibilities and told McSweeney’s, “I thought a lot about making these songs playable and approachable, but still musically interesting. I think some of the best covers will reimagine the chord structure, take liberties with the melodies, the phrasing, even the lyrics themselves. There are no rules in interpretation.”
I’ve written many times about my friend and multi-talented musician Tift Merritt. She is a singer/songwriter, guitarist, pianist, and creative spirit. Her podcast The Spark with Tift Merritt is a conversation about integrity and process, and features some of the most creative minds of our age, including Rosanne Cash, Andrew Bird, and Kiki Smith (among others). In addition to managing her solo career, Tift occasionally plays with Andrew Bird and the Hands Of Glory. Although she spends most of her time on the road touring, I occasionally get the chance to catch up with Tift in New York City (her home-base)—as was the case during our Makeshift events.
Her album, Traveling Alone, is a source of constant creative inspiration to me. When we last spoke, Tift graciously agreed to create our playlist for August. Below, she shares some of her favorite songs.
AC: When did you start playing music?
TM: I started playing music as a little girl with my father. He taught me to play by ear and I loved listening to him, trying to sing with him, and seeing how happy music made him. I wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember, so writing songs was a very natural way to bring many things I loved together.
“Where the Tennessee River, like a silver snake, winds her way through the red clay hills of Alabama, sits high on these hills my hometown, Florence.” –W.C. Handy, Father of the Blues
We have written many times of our community’s rich musical legacy. The Shoals has a very notable place in modern music history; but, that history reaches much further back than many realize. William Christopher “W.C.” Handy was born and raised here in Florence in the late 19th century. Discovering a love of music at a young age, he took up the cornet and participated in acapella vocal lessons while attending grammar school. Later, after receiving his degree from the Teachers Agricultural and Mechanical College in Huntsville, Alabama, he became a teacher and briefly worked in a piping company before ultimately pursuing music as his true passion. His contributions in shaping the blues were influenced by the African-American musical folk traditions he experienced during his travels across the South, with “Memphis Blues” marking the beginning of his musical career.
For over 30 years, The Shoals community has hosted the W.C. Handy Music Festival. “Handy Fest,” as the locals call it, provides a few moments of unrivaled fun – in the middle of what can be a long, hot summer. Many of us anticipate the event all year and even the most confirmed homebodies spend multiple evenings out and about, listening to live music, visiting with friends, and exploring the community during festival week.