MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. — For the past two years, Muscle Shoals music has had a heavy presence at the Americana Music Association’s annual conference and awards show.
In 2011, FAME Recording Studios founder Rick Hall was honored with a lifetime achievement award and the music of artists who recorded in the Shoals was featured during an all-star tribute show at the Cannery Ballroom in Nashville.
Fans who know about the legacy of Muscle Shoals packed into the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Ford Theater to listen to the likes of Hall, Jimmy Johnson, Norbert Putnam and Spooner Oldham discuss the scene’s formative years.
In September, Shoals natives Jason Isbell and John Paul White, of The Civil Wars, were up for several Americana Music Association awards. Isbell walked away with “Song of the Year” for the track “Alabama Pines” while The Civil Wars were named “Duo/Group of the Year.”
The Athens-based Alabama Shakes, whose music is influenced by the early Muscle Shoals Sound, received the award for “Emerging Group/Duo of the Year.”
Members of the Shoals music community say this kind of publicity can only be helpful for Shoals acts looking for a big break or at least a chance to get their music in front of a larger audience.
“Absolutely,” said Jimmy Nutt, a drummer/percussionist and owner of The NuttHouse Recording Studio in Sheffield. “That, coupled with the article in Relix Magazine and all the other things going on. The Americana Music Association is hotter than ever. It absolutely could help a lot of these new artists.”
The Shoals music scene has exploded in the past five or six years, giving birth to numerous new bands, some who have fallen by the wayside and others who are still making records, searching for their niche and seeking more recognition.
Doc Dailey is one of those artists whose music fits into the Americana genre. He frequently performs in the Shoals but is also taking his music to other regions of the country. He agrees that the buzz the area and its music is receiving can only help local artists like himself who are creating original music.
Dailey and his band, Magnolia Devil, and The Pollies recently opened a free show for the Alabama Shakes in Chicago, which placed both Shoals-based bands in front of a whole new group of fans.
Songwriter/musician/producer Mike Pyle said a shout-out from a super-hot band like the Alabama Shakes or a recent award winner like Isbell could go a long way for an up-and-coming artist.
He recalled how The Civil Wars saw their popularity soar after a tweet from superstar Taylor Swift. Social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook can help put an artist’s random thoughts into the hands of millions of people in mere seconds.
“Taylor told people she was a big fan of The Civil Wars and it put them on another level,” Pyle said.
People began searching the web for The Civil Wars and began downloading their songs because of that mention by a well-known artist.
Pyle said rising local bands could get a boost if a super-hot band like the Alabama Shakes or a recent award winner like Isbell encourages fans to check them out.
“That kind of stuff is big,” Pyle said. “I think any extra light shown on Muscle Shoals is a good thing.”
Pyle recently produced an album for Canadian country artist Bobby Wills and is using the Muscle Shoals connection to help promote the artist and his album.
“I was up at the Canadian Music Awards and spoke to a lot of people who had maybe heard of Muscle Shoals, but were not familiar with what’s gone on here,” Pyle said. “We have such good raw talent around here it’s amazing.”
Rodney Hall, president of FAME Music, said any attention on the local music scene is a positive thing.
Hall said the Americana genre, which has taken off over the past few years, can trace its roots back to early Muscle Shoals music.
“The awards and success we’re having in that genre are real indicators of the young talent that’s been coming up over the past few years just now being recognized nationally,” Hall said.
Hall urged local bands that might fit into the Americana genre to sign up for the 2013 Americana Music Association Music Festival & Conference, which is held in Nashville in September.
In addition to their talent, Pyle said, record labels will also judge artists by their fan base.
“They want to see what kind of base you have,” Pyle said.
Labels want to see how well artists have utilized Facebook and Twitter to create a fan base and how well they communicate with fans.
“They want to see how many followers you have,” he said. “I’ve heard from a lot of people in Nashville that they want to see if you’ve done your due diligence and are building a fan base up.”
And obviously, the artists need to get out on the road and take their music to the people.
“In the Americana business, you make your living off live dates,” Pyle said.
Nutt said the buzz about Shoals music has had a positive impact on his business as well.
“If it’s any indication, this is the best year I’ve had,” Nutt said. “I can’t keep up with what I’ve got going on. I have five or six projects going at once.”
Florence native Patterson Hood, co-founder of the Drive-By Truckers, presented a lifetime achievement award to keyboardist/composer Booker T. Jones during this year’s Americana Music Association Honors and Awards show.
“I’m sure it’s all a very good thing and it sure makes me proud,” Hood said via email. “Hopefully it will help the next batch of good ones along.”
Grammy Award winning songwriter Chris Tompkins, a Greenhill native now living in Nashville, said the attention cannot hurt emerging artists.
Tompkins won a Grammy in 2008 for “Before He Cheats,” a song he co-wrote with Josh Kear that became a hit for country superstar Carrie Underwood. Tompkins was recently nominated for another Grammy award for “Blown Away,” another Underwood hit he penned with Kear.
Tompkins said the Shoals is unique in that there is a group of accessible veteran musicians who are ready to mentor and coach young up-and-coming artists.
“There’s something about the area,” Tompkins said of the Shoals. “There are people you can ask questions. It’s not like being in a town with one guitar player.”
Tompkins said his wife, Jessica, has talked about how the Shoals music scene has made the transition from the old- school artists into the new group of musicians.
“I think at some point somebody will catch on to it,” Tompkins said. “I guarantee you somebody is noticing all those people are coming out of there.”
Efforts to reach members of the Alabama Shakes through their press contacts were unsuccessful.
A publicist representing Florence resident John Paul White of The Civil Wars said White was not available for interviews.
Isbell, who recently relocated to Nashville, was preparing for a tour and was not available for comment according to his publicist, Traci Thomas.