Muscle Shoals documentary set for film festival

By Russ Corey, TimesDaily

MUSCLE SHOALS, Ala. — Rick Hall’s description of how filmmaker Stephen Badger had the idea for a documentary about Muscle Shoals music sounds like something straight out of a movie.

The documentary, which focuses on the early years of Muscle Shoals music and its worldwide impact, will be featured at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in January.

“Muscle Shoals” was just added to the film festival, which takes place each year in Utah. The 2012 festival attracted more than 46,000 people.

Sundance showcases new work of American and international independent filmmakers and offers competitive sections for dramatic and documentary films.

“It’s been in the works for years,” said FAME Recording Studios founder Rick Hall, whose career is prominently featured in the documentary.

He said the film could have a big impact on the Shoals music industry and the musicians who continue to write, perform and produce original music.

While he was skeptical at Badger’s original proposal, Hall said he eventually warmed to the idea when he was convinced that Badger was sincere about the project.

“They came here and spent a long time talking to me,” Hall said. “This has been three years in the making.”

He said Badger appeared truly impressed with the area, its people and its story.

Badger is the son of Jacqueline Mars, granddaughter of Forrest Mars, founder of the American candy company that bears his name. They’re the makers of well-known candy products such as M&Ms, Milky Way, Snickers and 3Musketeers or, as Hall puts it, “all the stuff that I like.”

Hall said Badger was passing through the area in 2009, ending up at the Marriott Shoals Hotel and its Swampers Lounge.

Swampers, named after the group of studio musicians who left Hall’s FAME Recording Studios and founded Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, features a variety of photographs depicting highlights of the history of Muscle Shoals music.

Larry Bowser, the hotel’s general manager, recalls the visit. He said Badger, a vintage car enthusiast, was traveling with a group on the Natchez Trace Parkway when his car broke down. While staying at the Marriott and visiting the lounge, he discovered the impact of Muscle Shoals music.

“He was so amazed that he decided to stay over a couple of days and check it out,” Hall said.

Badger became so intrigued, Hall said, that he decided to film a documentary on the Muscle Shoals sound and its impact on American music.

“He started talking to me about doing a documentary,” Hall said.

Hall said Badger and his partner, Greg “Freddie” Camalier, shot 1,500 hours of footage of Hall in the studio, at his home, in the Freedom Hills area where he grew up and even the spot where his first wife was killed in a car crash.

Badger interviewed many of the people who were part of the early Muscle Shoals music scene, including Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, Roger Hawkins, Spooner Oldham, Donnie Fritts, “all the people who grew up in the music business here,” Hall said.

The film touches on the split between Hall and the Swampers and the group’s subsequent success at their own studio, recording the likes of the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Boz Scaggs, Rod Stewart, Bob Segar and many others.

Johnson said he had no idea who Badger was when he approached him about the film.

Johnson said the filmmakers delved into the story about the split between Hall and the Swampers and how the four men felt about what happened.

“We got to talk about it and tell each other how we felt about each other, which was pretty impressive,” Johnson said.

Badger also interviewed heavyweights in the music business, including Rolling Stones Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, U2 frontman Bono and soul legend Aretha Franklin, reggae star Jimmy Cliff and others to get their take on the importance of Muscle Shoals in American music.

The film crew shot footage of Hall in the studio recording singer Candi Staton, something that admittedly caused Hall some concern because of the potential for distraction from the music.

Hall said microphones were attached to himself, to Staton and all of the band members.

“They needed us producing a record in the studio,” Hall said. “I’m trying to cut a record and they’re trying to film me.”

The filmmakers also wanted a heavy hitter in the studio, so Hall said they flew in singer Alicia Keys for a quick session.

“Alicia was here one night and left the next morning,” Hall said.

In all, Hall said the crew made four or five trips to the Shoals to shoot various segments for the film.

“He (Badger) would call me or Rodney from time to time and give us a progress report.”

Hall said he hasn’t seen the finished product, but has seen excerpts from the film.

“I’m very excited about it being done,” he said.

Both he and his son, Rodney Hall, who is president of FAME Publishing, intend to attend the film’s premier at Sundance.

Rick Hall said the film should help shine light on the Shoals musical heritage and increase the attention on the up-and-coming Shoals artists who are now enjoying regional and worldwide success.

“I really think it’s going to be a shot in the arm with all that’s going on,” he said.

Johnson said he’s anxious to see the film.

“He doesn’t have a motive for getting wealthy off this,” Johnson said. “He wants to do something for the area.”

The festival takes place Jan. 17-27 in Park City, Salt Lake City, Ogden and Sundance, Utah. It will feature 119 feature-length films produced by independent filmmakers.

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