More than any other artist, Aretha Frankin is known for bringing the Muscle Shoals Sound to the forefront, even though this was the only song she actually recorded in Muscle Shoals. The session took place at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler sent Aretha to record there, as he and engineer Tom Down were very impressed with the musicians, who played on the hits "When A Man Loves A Woman
" by Percy Sledge and "Mustang Sally
" by Wilson Pickett.
They pulled off the session, but Aretha's husband/manager Ted White had beef with one of the horn players, resulting in a legendary incident that David Hood recalled in our 2012 interview. Hood became the bass player in the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, but at this session, he was playing trombone. Said Hood, "Ken Laxton, the trumpet player, was making remarks to Aretha that he thought were kind of cool and hip and all that. And Aretha and her husband Ted thought, 'Who is this white guy talking smart and trying to jive with us?' And it was taken wrong, I think. I don't think he was really trying to cause problems. But it was taken wrong, and people were drinking on the session - not me, but some people were - and it just got blown out of proportion and it ended up in a big argument and ended the session. So that's why Aretha didn't record in Muscle Shoals after that. She left."
Aretha left and the song was completed in New York. The sound was a perfect fit for Aretha, and Jerry Wexler decided that instead of trying to send the singer back to Muscle Shoals, he would bring the musicians to New York to work with her. Wexler had the Muscle Shoals players Tommy Cogbill (bass), Roger Hawkings (drums), Spooner Oldham
(keyboards), and Jimmy Johnson (rhythm guitar) fly to New York and complete the album with Aretha, which went so well that they repeated the process for her next three albums, with the guys traveling up from Alabama each time.
These were Aretha's seminal recordings, and as she shot to fame, other musicians sought out her sound and commissioned these Muscle Shoals musicians, who established their own studios - Muscle Shoals Sound Studios - in 1969. Bob Seger, Paul Simon, Rod Stewart and The Rolling Stones all recorded there. Stewart, and many of the other acts who came through, was shocked to find that the Aretha Franklin Soul sound he traveled so far to get was created by a group of white guys.