Fusing the sounds of Rock, Country, Blues and other genres, Alabama possesses a distinctive musical identity all its own.
There’s a rich history to explore. Start in Muscle Shoals, where some of the greatest rhythm & blues and rock hits were created then venture along Alabama’s Gulf Coast for more impressive talent. As you hit the open road, plan to make stops at recording studios, rustic beach joints and upscale musical venues. The atmosphere may vary, but the connection to outstanding music is always alive in Alabama.
Muscle Shoals: Revisiting Alabama’s Musical Roots
Your first stop should be the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, a music recording studio that quickly became an international phenomenon in the late 60s. Known as a hub for blues, rock and pop artists such as Rod Stewart, Paul Simon, Boy Dylan, the Rolling Stones and Lynyrd Skynyrd in the 60s and 70s, the walls here are lined with retro photographs, gold records and accolades. One gets the sense of how integral this studio was in defining the sounds of legendary and emerging artists of the time. It’s not the only studio in town though. Visit FAME Studio, the equally popular star maker that illuminated performers such as Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and more to the world. Both studios are still actively recording and offer public tours. For a deeper dive into Alabama’s musical roots, visit the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in Tuscumbia, where you can explore memorabilia and exhibits while enjoying tunes emanating from a three-meter high jukebox. Blues aficionados should make a detour to Florence to check out memorabilia and exhibits honoring the famed creator of the blues at the W.C. Handy Birthplace, Museum & Library.
Checking out behind-the-scenes exhibits at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
Birmingham’s Music Scene
Birmingham has its share of hot spots too. Locate the secret doorway in the Hot Diggity Dogs eatery and use the special password to gain access into The Marble Ring, an upscale speakeasy in Birmingham’s hip neighborhood, Avondale. As you sip specialty cocktails, enjoy 1920s jazz and the elegant hideaway atmosphere. It’s a special experience and a throwback to the USA’s prohibition era. If you’re seeking a casual locale, drop by Avondale Brewing Co. nearby. Home-grown craft beer and insight into Birmingham folklore (who doesn’t love a good story?) are on the menu. The brewery, tap room and outdoor concert venue create a collaborative space known for a good time and unforgettable craft ales with a story behind them. Be sure to sample the Miss Fancy, a golden Belgian ale, named after a beloved elephant from the Birmingham Zoo. It turns out zookeepers fed Miss Fancy prohibition brew (stock-piled in City Hall) to comfort her ailing stomach back in the day.
Walking through downtown Birmingham, a hot spot for public art, craft beverages and live music
Montgomery’s Country Music Legend
Of course, you can’t mention Alabama music without highlighting America’s country music superstar and storyteller, Hank Williams. He’s the troubadour responsible for celebrated hits like “Hey Good Lookin’,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Montgomery is where he got his start and was eventually laid to rest. Visitors can learn about his profound impact on country music at the Hank Williams Museum. Luckily, it also sits a half-block from the city’s unique underground blues and jazz club, Sous La Terre.
Statue of Hank Williams outside the museum dedicated to the country music legend in Montgomery
Fly into Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM) and rent a car – explore Birmingham, then travel northbound 189 kilometers to Muscle Shoals, approximately two hours away or head southbound 156 kilometers to Montgomery.