Visit America's Abbey Road: Muscle Shoals Tour A Must

Ok, that's a big claim. But we think that a corner of Northwest Alabama qualifies. Specifically, the town of Muscle Shoals, where legends like Duane Allman, Etta James, and Wilson Pickett laid down tracks.

You've probably heard about Muscle Shoals from the 2013 documentary with the same name. (And perhaps you've read our story on The New Sound of Muscle Shoals.) If not, the primer: this tiny town an hour off the interstate is where some of the most legendary songs of all time were recorded (see: The Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar" and Paul Simon's "Kodachrome").

For years, the studios were only open to artists, but now they are open to the public (on a limited basis). The best way to visit? On a behind-the-scenes tour.

Judy Hood, wife of swamper David Hood, runs her "Swampette" tour on the first Saturday of every month. The tickets, $35, sell out like hotcakes. And the first tour of the year-- scheduled for February 7--go on sale today.

Here's the story: Judy Hood was raised in Sheffield, Alabama, just down the road from the Shoals. She grew up just a few blocks away from the man who would become her husband, David, a bass player and member of the Muscle Shoals Swampers known for their iconic sound. Judy and David have been married for 28 years and together, help carry on the mission of telling the story of the Shoals.

After the documentary's release, tourists have flocked to this part of the world. But when the documentary premiered, there was no public tour. So, soon after, Judy, a recently retired PR executive, said yes to the local tourism agency asking her to lead one. Comandeering a trolley that seats 35, Judy took her first group of folks to FAME Studios and 3614 Jackson Highway (also the title of a Cher album, recorded here) as well as to the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

Held the first Saturday of the month from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., each of the Swampette Tours have sold out. So far, the youngest attendee was 18 months, the oldest, 83. Judy says, "You can watch the documentary or read about the Shoals, but without being here you can’t touch the piano Aretha Franklin played or go to the room where the Stones recorded 'Wild Horses' and be in a place that’s rock and roll heaven. I’ve had people break down in tears, especially at 3614 Jackson Highway."

The best part of the experience: it's lead by Judy herself, who is passionate about sharing the story of the Shoals sound, and how it continues to influence music today. She keeps the sessions small so visitors have time to ask questions, to interact with each other, and hear about the future of this area. (The Muscle Shoals Music Foundation purchased 3614 last year, and with the help of support from Beats Electronics, will be renovating it into a fully operating recording studio.)

If you go, keep your eyes out: a Swamper or two has been known to appear, and might just pick a song or two.

For more information, or to order tickets, call Florence Lauderdale Tourism (256)740-4141 or visit www.visitlflorenceal.com

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