Tourism Tuesdays April 30, 2019

Nominations for the 2019 Tourism Awards due by Friday

Welcome Center greeting tourism partners

More than 2,300 took part in the April Walking Tours this year

EJI plans new sites after launching memorial

Bassmaster Classic expected to lure economic boost

Philanthropic foundation formed to help Alabama State Parks reach potential

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: A history of the soul of America

McDonalds relaunch great taste of America

PBS documentary “Chasing the Moon” screened on May 3

Birmingham: Gateway to RTJ Golf and everything Alabama Southern hospitality offers

Hundreds of travel professionals in India learn about Alabama

2019 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism

Alabama Welcome Center Retreat 2019

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website


Nominations for the 2019 Tourism Awards due by Friday
The 2019 Tourism Award nominations are now open. Please submit your nomination for a tourism professional you feel has gone above and beyond the call of duty. There are 13 categories to choose from: Tourism Hall of Fame, Attraction of the Year, Event of the Year, Governor’s Tourism Award, Tourism Advocate Media, Tourism Advocate Government, Tourism Professional of the Year, Tourism Executive of the Year, Tourism Organization of the Year, Tourism Partnership, Welcome Center Employee of the Year, ATD Employee of the Year, Rising Star, and Themed Campaigns.

The deadline for nominations is May 3, 2019 at 2 p.m. If you have any questions please contact Cynthia Flowers at 334-242-4413 or by email:

Welcome Center greeting tourism partners
The Alabama Tourism Department-Welcome Center Program will be welcoming guests throughout the state to increase the awareness of the economic, social and cultural impact that tourism has on the local, regional and statewide communities. We invite our tourism partners to participate at each Center from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. (central standard time) by bringing special promotions, coupons, etc., and share in our hospitality on the following dates:

May 9: Lanett Welcome Center, Grand Bay Welcome Center and Houston Welcome Center
May 10: Baldwin Welcome Center
May 15: Cleburne Welcome Center
May 16: Sumter Welcome Center
May 23: Ardmore Welcome Center
May 30: DeKalb Welcome Center

Please contact the Welcome Center managers to RSVP.

More than 2,300 took part in the April Walking Tours this year
More than 2,300 people across the state took part in the April Walking Tours this year. A variety of community leaders lead the free tours through the historic districts or courthouse square areas of their hometowns each Saturday morning in April.

“Some 38,000 people have participated in the walking tours since the beginning of the program 16 years ago and the tours keep increasing in popularity every year,” said Brian Jones with the Alabama Tourism Department.

Towns and starting places for the April Walking Tours this year were: Athens, Athens Visitor Center; Attalla, Gazebo at 4th St. and 5th Ave.; Bayou La Batre, Mariner Park; Birmingham, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute; Courtland, Courtland Heritage Museum; Cullman, Cullman County Museum; Decatur, Old State Bank Building; Elba, Chamber of Commerce; Elkmont, Elkmont Depot; Enterprise, Pea River Historical Society; Eutaw, Prairie Avenue; Eufaula, Carnegie Library; Fairhope, Fairhope Welcome Center; Florence, various locations; Foley, Welcome Center.

Huntsville, Confectionary Shop at Constitution Village (April 6 & 13 only); Livingston, McConnell Field on University of West Alabama campus; Madison, Madison Roundhouse (April 20 & 27 only); Mobile, Welcome Center at The History Museum of Mobile; Monroeville, Old Courthouse Museum; Montgomery, Montgomery Area Visitor Center; Mooresville, Post Office; Moulton, Lawrence County Archives; Pell City, City Hall; Prattville, Prattaugan Museum; Selma, Selma-Dallas County Library; Sheffield, Sheffield Municipal Building; Shelby, Iron Works Park; Springville, Springville Museum; Tuscumbia, ColdWater Bookstore.

More information about the April Walking Tours is available on the Alabama Tourism Department website at

EJI plans new sites after launching memorial
From the article by Brad Harper on

Brian Edwards contributed to this report.

Bryan Stevenson knew a national memorial to lynching victims and a museum dedicated to the legacy of slavery wouldn’t be an easy thing to see. But he thought it was important, so he hoped people would make the trip to Montgomery to visit and learn.

More than 400,000 came in the first year, from around the world.

On the first anniversary of the memorial and museum, Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative is busy opening two new sites in Montgomery and planning memorials for 1,600 more lynching victims, all while adjusting to the huge crowds. “We didn’t plan on a lot of things because we didn’t anticipate this kind of response,” Stevenson said. “I mean, we hoped for it, but we didn’t plan on it. So, it’s been really exciting, but challenging.”

They’ve bought the 401 N. Perry St. site next to Riverwalk Stadium and are building an expansive facility there to streamline things. EJI’s ticket center and its gift shop and café, which are housed in separate spaces, will move to the new building. There’ll be expanded shuttle service, it’ll have parking for visitors, and there are plans to bring in a new restaurant.

“If you have 3,000 people visiting the sites during the day, they have to have places to eat,” Stevenson said. “So, we’re going to try to bring some added opportunities for food, not just for our visitors but for everybody in downtown Montgomery.”

The building’s focal point will be a tribute to 1,600 more lynching victims.

The hanging pillars of The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which is a little less than a mile away, honors those who were lynched from 1877 to 1950. The new building will focus on people who were lynched from 1865 to 1877.

On Monday, EJI will dedicate a separate memorial to people lynched in the 1950s. Some of the victims’ family members plan to attend the dedication.

It stands outside the newly opened Peace and Justice Memorial Center, across the street from the original memorial. EJI said the center is meant to be a place where people can learn more about the history of race in America as well as the work of EJI itself.

It’s been 30 years since Stevenson founded what became EJI in Montgomery to provide legal assistance to death row inmates, the mentally ill, children being prosecuted as adults and others in need of help. Its advocacy work has saved innocent people from death row and helped change sentencing guidelines for children nationwide.

Much of that happened after the organization lost its federal funding in 1994. It relaunched operations as a nonprofit and survived on donations from what Stevenson called some “remarkable people” over the next decade. “I’ve always understood that justice is a constant struggle and that we weren’t going to be able to do anything that would help people if we weren’t willing to engage in that struggle,” he said. “We certainly had a lot of ups and downs financially.”

Public financial forms show those ups and downs, with the EJI mostly hovering around $3 million in revenue and assets through 2013. By the end of 2016, the most recent forms available, that had jumped to nearly $40 million in revenue and more than $57 million in assets. That was two years before the opening of the memorial and museum.

Stevenson said the past few years haven’t always made it easy to tackle the legal work.

“It’s been great that we’ve had so many people respond, but in honesty it’s actually made things harder because we’re now trying to manage these incredibly significant cultural spaces,” he said. “… And now we’re in the midst of preparing to manage this level of interest for the long term, which is a really exciting opportunity.”

That extends to the city as a whole, and particularly Montgomery’s redeveloped downtown.

Local attractions are seeing a surge in visitors while the city continues to lead the state in hotel occupancy rates and room demand. That last part isn’t necessarily a good thing — Stevenson and city leaders agree that the area needs more hotels. “The good news is we have some coming online,” said Dawn Hathcock of the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce.

Four are under construction in the blocks around EJI’s facilities, and the area has seen a massive influx of investment and construction in the past decade, including new stores, restaurants and historic attractions.

Other problems remain. “We’ve got a lot of buildings that are unoccupied. We have a lot of spaces that are not utilized. We have a lot of real estate that doesn’t actually contribute to life in the city, either residential or commercial. We haven’t really created the optics that I think we want people to have when they drive into downtown Montgomery off of the interstate,” Stevenson said. “And those opportunities are opportunities that communities all across the country are having to wrestle with.

“A lot of what we’re doing was made harder by the absence of sort of a commitment to a downtown infrastructure that is alive and active, that’s not dormant and just sitting there for decades.”

Hathcock compared the infrastructure challenges to the ones that Austin, Texas, and Nashville, Tennessee, dealt with when those cities had to adjust to a sudden downtown boom. “It’s a good problem to have, but you have to manage it,” she said.

Still, Stevenson said Montgomery seems to be going in the right direction, and that it’s a direction that can serve as a lesson for other places, one about physical and social change.

“If you don’t get to the truth of (history), then you’re not going to create the kind of honest engagement that people need and want. That’s why we’ve tried not to shy away from the historical work we’ve been doing, even when they’re difficult and challenging,” Stevenson said. “But I think that has added interest in what’s going on in Montgomery. It’s enhanced the experience of people who come here in ways I think we should all be proud of.

“There’s a lot of untapped potential that our region offers people in all walks of life. We’ve got a military base, we’ve got state government, we have this rich history, we have beautiful natural resources. We have a community of people who care about service and sharing. All of those elements are critical to create a thriving space. We just have to take advantage of that.”

For the complete article please see

Bassmaster Classic expected to lure economic boost
From the article by Michael Tomberlin on

The Bassmaster Classic will return to Alabama next year, marking its milestone 50th annual tournament and bringing with it an economic splash that will ripple from Guntersville to Birmingham.

Officials announced Monday the tournament hailed as the “Super Bowl of bass fishing” will be at Lake Guntersville with daily weigh-ins and the associated Classic Outdoors Expo at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex May 6-8, 2020.

The tournament is a sort of homecoming. Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) was founded in Montgomery in 1968. It is now headquartered in Birmingham.

“It’s fitting that the golden anniversary classic be held in Alabama, where B.A.S.S. was founded more than 50 years ago,” B.A.S.S. CEO Bruce Akin said. “Our plans are to make this the most spectacular celebration of bass fishing in history.”

The Bassmaster Classic will be the third held on Lake Guntersville, the 13th in Alabama and the ninth at the BJCC.

Coming off a record-setting classic in Knoxville this year that had more than 153,000 in attendance and an economic impact of more than $32 million, officials are hopeful that the 50th will be the event’s best.

“As a competitor – and I know everybody in this room are real competitors – I think we need to shatter both records next year,” Akin said. “Between Birmingham and Guntersville and the state of Alabama, I’m pretty confident we can. With the record we’ve got against Tennessee in all facets of things, I think we will.”

That’s the kind of talk that David Galbaugh likes to hear.

“The $32 million in the Knoxville area, that’s tremendous and we certainly hope to reach that number or surpass it,” said Galbaugh, vice president of sports sales and marketing with the Greater Birmingham Convention and Visitors Bureau (GBCVB). “Our community will work tirelessly to make this the best classic ever.”

The event will showcase Lake Guntersville and the surrounding area.

“The Bassmaster Classic is the Super Bowl of bass fishing and we are excited that Lake Guntersville was chosen as the fishing venue for such a prestigious event,” said Guntersville Mayor Leigh Dollar. “We are so proud of our beautiful lake city and can hardly wait for all of you to come visit next March and experience Southern hospitality at its best.”

As the home of the weigh-ins and expo, Birmingham stands to see a big benefit as well.

“We are so proud to once again host the Bassmaster Classic, the Super Bowl of bass fishing,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall L. Woodfin. “We look forward to the great competition the classic attracts and the dedicated fans who will gather in Birmingham for this incredible event. While in the region, we invite everyone to experience the inspirational history, legendary food and world-class entertainment, which make us the Magic City.”

The classic will be covered live and streamed on, ESPN3 and the ESPN app, and five hours of original programming will be aired on ESPN2 and the Pursuit Channel following the event. In addition, the classic annually draws more than 250 credentialed media. The 2019 classic was covered by journalists from 28 states as well as Japan, China, Australia, Italy, Germany and Canada.

The entire state will benefit from the exposure, said Alabama Tourism Director Lee Sentell.

“Having the classic back in Alabama is huge because it is going to give our state – and Guntersville in particular – a tremendous amount of advertising and media coverage,” he said.

There will be 53 anglers competing for a total purse of $1 million, with $300,000 going to the winner.

For the complete article please see

Philanthropic foundation formed to help Alabama State Parks reach potential
From the article by Erica Pettway on (WIAT-42)

The Alabama State Parks Foundation was introduced at Oak Mountain State Park on Thursday, promising to work to raise money for all 21 parks to enhance programming, facilities and parks experiences.

The not-for-profit organization is led by Dan L. Hendricks of Florence, president of the ASPF Board of Directors and former executive director of the University of North Alabama Foundation. The 15-person volunteer board includes businesspeople and philanthropists from across the state.

Alabama State Parks Director Greg Lein, who serves as treasurer for the board, said he was enthusiastic about the prospects for the new organization. “The Alabama State Parks Foundation, led by this distinguished board, is a wonderful way for people to get involved with raising game-changing gifts that will enhance our parks for generations to come. The Foundation will be the driver for attracting supporters who want to contribute for specific parks and projects that benefit the whole system.”

The Foundation also unveiled its “First Friends” program and website. “Our First Friends initiative intends to build a network of supporters who are excited about getting in on the ground floor of this endeavor,” Hendricks said. “First Friends who give to the Foundation will forever be recognized as Founding Members of the Alabama State Parks Foundation. Like our founding board of directors, our First Friends are people who are dedicated to building and sustaining a great statewide park system.”

Corporate partners are also supporters of the new Foundation. Buffalo Rock President & Chief Operating Officer Matthew Dent called the Foundation a perfect opportunity for businesses and industries in the state to show their pride in being part of their communities. “Buffalo Rock is happy to be a part of this new organization because we know how important the state parks are to our customers and employees as well as all of Alabama’s citizens,” he said. “Outdoor entertainment goes hand-in-hand with enjoying our products and I can think of no better place to get that feeling of refreshment than an Alabama state park.”

For the complete article please see

Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: A history of the soul of America
From the article by Paul McGuinness on

The sleepy area of Alabama known as the shoals, would become the unlikely destination for America’s greatest recording artists, churning out classic hits like Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves a Woman”; “I Never Loved A Man” by Aretha Franklin; “Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones; and “I’ll Take You There” by The Staple Singers.

On the bank of the Tennessee River, about halfway between Memphis and Atlanta, lies the town of Muscle Shoals. To the casual observer, Muscle Shoals is just a quiet Alabama town, surrounded by verdant countryside and bordered by the vast Tennessee River. Men and birds alike fish in the river, as the sun beats down on the swampland where alligators wait. The Yuchi Indians called the Tennessee “the river that sings.” Legend told of a woman who lived in the river and sang songs that protected her people.

Home to some of the greatest records in history
In 1924, Wilson Dam was completed, destroying the hazardous shoals that gave the new town and its neighborhood its name. Life in Muscle Shoals is slow – it can feel as though time has stood still there. It’s not a big town – population some 13,000 – and yet it’s home to some of the greatest records in the history of popular music.

Blues pioneer W.C. Handy and Sam Phillips, who would famously discover Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, came from close by. Muscle Shoals was in many ways the home of the blues, the home of rock-n-roll and the home of soul music, even if the Alabama pioneers had to journey to the relatively more pluralistic city of Memphis, Tennessee, in order to bring the music they loved to a wider audience.

Helen Keller was another local. As the blind singer Clarence Carter commented, “Helen Keller was from Muscle Shoals and it was always amazing to me the things she was able to accomplish being blind and deaf.” Famously, the first word that Keller learned was “water” – the well where she learned the word is a famous landmark. Everything from Muscle Shoals comes back to the water that sang.

Rick Hall and the beginning of FAME Music
Rick Hall grew up in a house with a dirt floor in the nearby Freedom Hills. “We just kind of grew up like animals,” he recalled. When he was still a boy, his 3-year-old brother died in a tragic accident after falling into a tub of scalding water as their mother was doing the washing in the backyard. His parents’ marriage collapsed in the aftermath, each blaming the other. Before long, his mother left the family, taking up work in a house of ill repute. She never saw her son again. Unsurprisingly, this chain of events had a profound impact on Hall, who became determined to make something great of his life.

The death of his first wife in a car accident hit Hall hard, and he turned to the bottle. He lost himself in drink and in music, joining a local band and writing songs in the car he now called home.

Hall struck up a songwriting partnership with another local musician named Billy Sherrill when the pair played together in a band, and they began selling their songs to the likes of Brenda Lee and Roy Orbison. Together with a local hunchbacked young businessman, they formed a publishing company. The three young men set up an improvised recording facility above a drugstore in nearby Florence, Alabama, in order to demo their songs. This was the beginning of FAME Music (FAME standing for Florence Alabama Music Enterprises).

After less than a year, however, Hall had fallen out with his partners, and he was let go. According to Hall, the problem sprung from him being too much of a workaholic, when his partners wanted to have fun: “I was so very aggressive and fired up,” he told Peter Guralnick, author of the definitive account of soul music in the south: “Sweet Soul Music.”

The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section
When Hall returned to Muscle Shoals, it was with a determination to immerse himself in the business of making records. Backed by his new father-in-law, Hall built a studio in an old warehouse. A chance encounter with a young singer-songwriter called Arthur Alexander led to Hall’s first hit, “You Better Move On,” which made it to No. 24 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in early 1962.

Soon FAME studios began to attract musicians and songwriters looking to make a name for themselves, Dan Penn, Donnie Fritts and Percy Sledge among them. But as Hall began to establish a reputation and scored more hits, the regular musicians he had been using grew tired of their poor wages and left. Hall’s second house band would, however, prove to be worth their weight in gold. With Jimmy Johnson on guitar, David Hood playing bass, Roger Hawkins on the drums and Spooner Oldham playing keyboards, the group came to be known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, or The Swampers.

Percy Sledge: ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’
Percy Sledge recorded “When A Man Loves A Woman” in nearby Sheffield, Alabama, in a studio owned by Hall’s friend, local DJ Quin Ivy, backed by a number of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. When he heard it, Rick Hall recognised that it sounded like a No.1 hit. Hall called Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records in New York and struck a deal (taking a share of the royalties as a finder’s fee).

Percy Sledge worked in the local hospital, singing to his patients to help them sleep. “When I came into the studio I was shaking like a leaf, I was scared,” he later said of recording “When A Man Loves A Woman.” He was unskilled in the art of making records, “All I had was a voice, I didn’t know about no singing.” But Hall had been right, and the song went to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1966. It took Southern soul to the mainstream, and blew the game wide open, putting the Muscle Shoals sound very firmly on the map.

“When A Man Loves A Woman” forged a partnership between Hall and Wexler, with the might of the latter’s Atlantic Records label put behind Hall’s productions. Having fallen out with Jim Stewart at Wexler’s Southern recording spot of choice, Stax Records, he turned to Hall to cut his records in the South.

The Muscle Shoals sound
The Muscle Shoals style fused hillbilly, blues, rock-n-roll, soul, country and gospel, to create a sound that cherry-picked the best features of each to forge something new. They close-mic’d the kick drum, and the FAME recordings pumped with heavy bass and drums. But the playing was light and loose, the songs melodic and full of stories. And through it all was deep passion and grit.

One of the first acts Wexler sent to Muscle Shoals was Wilson Pickett. “I couldn’t believe it,” Pickett told journalist Mark Jacobson. “I looked out the plane window, and there’s these people picking cotton. I said to myself, ‘I ain’t getting off this plane, take me back north.’ This big Southern guy was at the airport [Rick Hall]… I said, ‘I don’t want to get off here, they still got black people picking cotton.’ The man looked at me and said, ‘F__k that. Come on Pickett, let’s go make some f__king hit records.’ I didn’t know Rick Hall was white.”

When Wexler came to FAME, he was shocked by the laidback nature of the sessions. He was used to working with the country’s finest session players, who would sight-read from charts, knocking out hits in a highly professional manner. But things were different in Muscle Shoals. Here the musicians were local guys who looked like they worked in a warehouse or supermarket. And yet, as he quickly realized, these were smooth and funky players, musicians who cut a groove to rival any in the land. Pickett and Wexler were bowled over and sold on the sound they had going on.

It’s worth remembering that this all took place against a backdrop of the civil-rights struggle, and blatant racial aggression. In 1963, the Governor of Alabama, George Wallace, had stood in front of the Foster Auditorium at the University Of Alabama in a vain attempt to block the enrollment of black students. In the recording studio, however, blacks and whites worked together blind to the color of each other’s skin. But when they took a break and stepped out of the studio, racism hung on every corner.

“Sessions with Aretha Franklin were unforgettable”
Aretha Franklin had failed to make an impact in five years recording for CBS, so after the label dropped her, Wexler snapped her up and took her to Muscle Shoals in 1967. She and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section struggled at first to find a mutual groove, but once they hit it, everything changed. The first song they recorded at FAME together was “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You),” and it would become Franklin’s first hit record.

Musician and songwriter Dan Penn recalled, “Less than two hours and it was in the can and it was a killer, no doubt about it. That morning, we knew that a star had been born.” Keyboardist Spooner Oldham, whose keyboard introduction set the scene for the song, backs this up: “Of the hundreds of sessions I have participated in, I can honestly say those first few sessions with Aretha Franklin were simply and magically unforgettable.”

But just as the magic was working, so did tempers flare. Ted White, Franklin’s husband and manager, got into a drunken exchange with a trumpet player, and then fought with Hall, before leaving town. Wexler blamed Hall for the session breaking up, and swore to never set foot in Muscle Shoals again.

However, Wexler had the Muscle Shoals musicians flown to New York, where the album “I Never Loved A Man the Way I Love You” was completed. It was a partnership that created a phenomenal run of hits. The album they created remains one of the greatest in soul music history.

Hall, in the meantime, hooked up with the Chess brothers in Chicago, with Leonard Chess arranging to bring Etta James to FAME. Hall produced her hit 1968 album “Tell Mama” at Fame. James was struck by Hall’s feel for the music: “Rick Hall was actually the first white man that I had seen that had that kind of soul, that was an engineer and was soulful, you know?”

Enter the Allman Brothers
A combination of loyalty to Hall and superstitious belief in his studio brought Pickett back to Muscle Shoals in late 1968, despite Wexler’s refusal to work with Hall again. And the sessions would introduce the talents of a young guitar player called Duane Allman. After injuring his elbow in a horse-riding accident, Allman had turned to bottle-neck guitar playing in his reduced mobility. He took to the style instantly (Hall later remarked that he’d never heard anybody play slide guitar like Duane). But while the rest of the white musicians were clean cut, Allman had hair past his shoulders, huge sideburns and a Mexican-style moustache, and was dressed in tie-dye, flower patterns and scruffy denims.

Jimmy Johnson recalled, “There was always a slight problem when we would go out, all of us white boys with a black artist, that we’d get looks. But there was nothing as bad as going out with a long-haired hippy with us white boys. They couldn’t stand that! And so both of them [Allman and Pickett] stayed back.”

It was while the others were out to lunch that Allman suggested to Pickett that he cut a cover of “Hey Jude.” Both Pickett and Hall thought Allman was crazy to want to cover The Beatles, but the finished record would be one of the greatest covers of any Beatles song, as well as one of Wilson Pickett’s most powerful recordings (not to mention a huge hit). On hearing Allman’s playing on the record, Eric Clapton was knocked out: “I remember hearing Wilson Pickett’s “Hey Jude” and just being astounded by the lead break at the end. I had to know who that was immediately – right now.”

Various musicians that hung around at FAME began to jam together with Allman, and that was the genesis of The Allman Brothers Band. But Hall couldn’t see a future in the sound they had developed, which would be the bedrock of all Southern rock, and decided against recording them. As he told writer Peter Guralnick: “I didn’t know what to do with him and finally Phil [Walden, booking agent] said, ‘Look, you’re not doing anything with him. Why don’t you sell him to Wexler, maybe get your bucks back?’ Wexler says, ‘What will you take for the masters and the contract? I’ll only give you $10,000.’ I said, ‘Write me the check.’ I still laugh about it with Phil. Of course, I lost five to ten million on that venture.”

Building Muscle Shoals Sound Studio
The times were very much a-changing by now, however, and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section decided that this was the right moment to tell Hall that they were going into business in direct competition with FAME. Hall had called them into his office to sign them up to an exclusive contract on the terms of his new deal with Capitol Records. He remembered, “One of the guys stopped me and said, ‘We’ve already made a deal with Jerry Wexler and he is going to build us a studio across town. We’ll be leaving here, going with him.’ I felt like the whole bottom of my life had fell out… it was war. Total war.”

From their point of view, the musicians had reached the end of their patience with the way Hall operated. The new Capitol deal was worth a reported $1 million, but Johnson claimed that Hall was offering the musicians just $10,000 each per year – despite each having earned almost double that amount the year before. Hall himself admitted that he may have shot himself in the foot: “I should have gone partners with them or cut them in for a piece of the action, but I think I had really come to believe that I could take any group of musicians and cut hit records. I just wasn’t smart enough, or I was to engrossed in what I was doing, to realize differently.”

And so it was that the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio was founded at 3614 Jackson Highway, Sheffield, Alabama, in 1969, by Barry Beckett (who had replaced Spooner Oldham on keyboards in 1967), Roger Hawkins, Jimmy Johnson and David Hood. The musicians had taken a gamble, as Hood recalled: “When we bought the studio we were very nervous about whether or not we’d have any hits. And you have to have hits to keep recording.” But Wexler saw to it that their new venture had a steady flow of talent through the door. As Johnson explained to Guralnick, “We just built the business from clients Rick threw out the door. Atlantic loaned us $19,000 to make the transition to eight-track, modify the console, and we owed $40,000 on the loans that Fred [Bevis, landlord] had gotten on the buildings and the improvements. That was $60,000, and we were scared to death, but for some reason we just went forward.”

Jerry Wexler’s Atlantic guaranteed them work for 18 months, but when he decided he wanted to move his soul music operation to Miami, and the Muscle Shoals players weren’t prepared to follow, that was the end of their relationship with Wexler. “That was a scary time,” Johnson recalled with not a little understatement. The studio remained afloat, thanks in part to session work for Stax Records.

The Rolling Stones: “Sticky Fingers”
It took the best part of year for things to take off, but in early December 1969, The Rolling Stones booked into the studio to kick off what would become their Sticky Fingers album. Keith Richards explained that it was match made in heaven: “The sound was in my head before I even got there. And then, of course, when it actually lives up to it and beyond, then you’re in rock’n’roll heaven, man.”

The band took advantage of being in blues territory to cut Fred McDowell’s “You Gotta Move,” before tackling their own “Wild Horses.” Richards testified to how effortlessly well the sessions went: “I thought it was one of the easiest and rockin’-est sessions that we’d ever done. I don’t think we’ve been quite so prolific ever. I mean, we cut three or four tracks in two days, and that for the Stones is going some.” “Brown Sugar” rounded off their stay at Jackson Highway, and Richards says that had it not been for legal issues preventing him from re-entering the country, they would have recorded “Exile On Main St.” there as well.

The boom the studio got from the Stones’ sessions can’t be underestimated. Muscle Shoals became the 70’ Funk Factory, while at the same time attracting the biggest names in pop and rock, from Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel to Rod Stewart to Elton John.

Feuds, ‘Freebird’ and The Fame Gang
The feud between Hall and Wexler meant that both studios had to up their game. Over at FAME, Hall put together a new band, dubbed The Fame Gang, and recorded hit records with Joe Tex, Tom Jones, The Osmonds, Candi Staton, Bobbie Gentry, King Curtis, Little Richard, Paul Anka, Bobby Womack and Clarence Carter. In 1973, Rick Hall was named producer of the year after records he’d made topped the Billboard pop charts for an extraordinary 17 weeks.

At the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, they picked up Lynyrd Skynyrd, whose epic “Freebird” would become known as a modern-day Southern anthem. But they were unable to secure a label for the record, and it would be the source of great regret for the studio that they had to let the band go, shortly before they become huge. However, following the tragic plane crash that killed three of the band, the survivors had the Muscle Shoals sessions put out as an album titled “Skynyrd’s First And… Last.” The Muscle Shoals guys were immortalised in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s legendary single “Sweet Home Alabama”:

Now Muscle Shoals has got The Swampers
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two (yes they do)
Lord they get me off so much
They pick me up when I’m feeling blue, now how ’bout you?

The go-to studio for the biggest names
The Muscle Shoals sound may have been born out of R&B, but by the 70s, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section were showing their adaptability across a number of genres. Acting as the house band at their studio, they gave Jimmy Cliff’s reggae a Southern twist. They worked with Traffic on the album “Shoot Out At The Fantasy Factory” before heading out on tour with them – the first time members of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section had gone on the road. But it was in leaving Muscle Shoals for the bright lights of the live circuit that they discovered quite how much they valued their sweet life at home in Alabama.

The Muscle Shoals Sound Studio became the go-to studio for the biggest names in music. Bob Dylan’s “Slow Train Coming,” Paul Simon’s “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon,” Boz Scaggs, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, The Staple Singers, Leon Russell, Millie Jackson, Dire Straits, Dr. Hook, Cat Stevens, Bob Seeger, Elton John, Willie Nelson and Julian Lennon all recorded there over the next decade.

In 1979, the studio moved to larger premises at 1000 Alabama Avenue, where it remained until it was sold, along with the Muscle Shoals Sound publishing rights, to their friend, Tommy Crouch of Malaco Records in 1985. Beckett headed to Nashville to work as a producer, while the remaining three members of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section continued to record at their old studio, as well as proving to be among the country’s most in-demand session players.

Today, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and the FAME Studio both continue to operate as working studios, as well as being popular tourist attractions, offering daily tours of the restored facilities. Among the more recent artists to record in Muscle Shoals are Drive-By Truckers, Band Of Horses, The Black Keys, Bettye LaVette, Phish, Greg Allman and Cyril Neville.

Though the split between Hall and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section angered Hall like nothing else in his life, through the passing of time, they became close again. The musicians would credit Hall with having started the Muscle Shoals sound. For his part, Rick Hall later said of them simply that, “These are guys that I love with all my heart.”

For the complete article please see

McDonalds relaunch great taste of America
For a limited time, Alabama has its own sandwich in the “Great Taste of America” burgers being offered at all the McDonalds in the U.K. They have incorporated the Alabama white BBQ sauce in the chicken sandwich and have even added the phrasing “from the state where the skies are so blue.”

Alabama Chicken with a smoky BBQ mayo – taking flavors from the state where the skies are so blue, two crispy chicken pieces nestle next to bacon, cheese, crispy onions and seasonal lettuce with a white BBQ sauce and top and tailed in a cornbread style bun. Available from May 1st – May 28th.

For the complete list of sandwiches and the article please see

PBS documentary “Chasing the Moon” screened on May 3
The U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville will host a preview screening of excerpts from the new PBS documentary “Chasing the Moon” on Friday, May 3. The screening will be at 6:30 p.m. in the National Geographic Theater in the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. Admission is free, but seating is limited.

Following the screening there will be a panel discussion which includes filmmaker Robert Stone.

“Chasing the Moon” recasts the Space Age as a fascinating stew of scientific innovation, political calculation, media spectacle, visionary impulses and personal drama, utilizing a feast of previously overlooked and lost archival material.

The documentary premiers across three nights, beginning July 8 on PBS stations across the nation.

For more information please see

Birmingham: Gateway to RTJ Golf and everything Alabama Southern hospitality offers
From the article by Eric N. Hart on

Birmingham, Alabama is just the 50th busiest travel hub in the United States, but it’s Top 5 among America’s most popular golf-travel destinations. So our Metro Guide series heads to the heart of the South — home to famously friendly hospitality, mouthwatering barbecue, Lambert’s “Throwed Rolls” and, of course, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Here’s what you’ll find within an hour of Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport (BHM).

Golf courses
Highland Park (7.5 miles from BHM): If you appreciate the roots of the game, you’ll find plenty of history at Alabama’s oldest golf course, established in 1903. One of the Bobby Jones’ first victories came at Highland Park, and a renovation back in 1998 accentuated the views of the downtown skyline. And tee times are just $54 on weekends and holidays.

Oxmoor Valley (18.2 miles from BHM): Home to the RTJ Golf Trail headquarters, this rugged site built on former mining land is a great value round and scenic treat as well. With 54 holes (The Ridge, The Valley and the 18-hole Short Course), there’s plenty of variety when it comes to golf, and the Appalachians backdrop provides a diverse scenic setting. Oxmoor Valley rates top out at $79 for the Ridge and Valley, and the Short Course costs just $29 for 18 holes.

Ross Bridge (18.6 miles from BHM): We shamelessly plug this course as one of the 10 Most Underrated Courses in America — simply can’t understand how it is not ranked as the No. 1 public course in Alabama every year. Ross Bridge is big and bold and loaded with in-your-face drama and architectural muscle, waterfalls, lakes and memorable hole designs throughout. Peak rates are in the $120-$130 range — relatively reasonable for a shouldn’t-miss golf experience.

Ballantrae (30.5 miles from BHM): For some reason this semi-private Bob Cupp design also flies under the radar, with weekend rates peaking at only $65. It’s a fun loop, close to the city and has seen its share of events and accolades (hosted the Alabama Open for three years and won Best New Affordable by Golf Digest in 2005).

Limestone Springs (32.9 miles from BHM): This Jerry Pate course is a true adventure of a round. A bit on the higher end cost-wise (rates top out at $109 on the weekends) but well worth the drive for the experience. And Limestone Springs has onsite cottages for overnight accommodations.

Timberline (38.9 miles from BHM): Another Pate design, this semi-private course works its way through hardwood and pine trees that create an old-world ambiance. Rates top out at $65, making it yet another of the many value options throughout Alabama.

FarmLinks (54.2 miles from BHM): Our love of FarmLinks golf course (and the ever-growing Pursell Farms resort that surrounds it) is about so much more than golf. It’s about family, fun, values and everything the Pursell family holds dear. FarmLinks is a friendly rollercoaster of a round in some of the best conditions you’ll ever find (the family founded a fertilizer company in 1904). Rates are in the $100-$120 range.

Signature golf holes
No. 3 at Oxmoor Valley – Ridge: This 5-par takes you over a pond then uphill to a green buttressed by the shale cliffs that make the Oxmoor terrain so distinct.

No. 5 at FarmLinks: Simply stunning and one of the more memorable holes you’ll find anywhere, this 3-par features a 172-foot vertical drop and at least 172 miles of incredible panoramic views.

No. 7 at Limestone Springs: It’s a short 3-par over water to a tricky green with the signature “log cabin” always in sight.

No. 17 at Ballantrae: Castles in Alabama? Yes. And you’ll find them at Ballantrae, especially on this beautiful 3-par on the lake.

Tourism highlights
Civil Rights story: Alabama was at the heart of the civil-rights movement of the 1960s. Landmarks such as the 16th St. Baptist Church and centers such as the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute shine a spotlight on this tumultuous time in our nation’s history

Topgolf – Birmingham: Can you count Topgolf as a tourism highlight? Golfers do. And so do we. Sometimes “more golf” is the answer to “What do we when the sun goes down?”

The Birmingham Zoo: They have a Red Panda. Who doesn’t love Red Pandas?

Paramount Downtown: Did I just call a bar a tourist highlight? Yes and No. Technically it’s a “Barcade” that offers an American garage experience mixed with a hefty dose of nostalgia — Skeeball, Ms. Pacman, Donkey Kong and more, plus plenty of pinball machines.

Museum-Mania: From the McWane Science Center to the Birmingham Museum of Art to the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, there’s pretty much something for everyone’s interest in Birmingham.?

Places to stay
Renaissance Ross Bridge: Modeled after the overseas chateaus of the United Kingdom, the Renaissance Birmingham Ross Bridge Golf Resort & Spa is a Golf Trip Experts favorite for your ultimate stay-and-play experience. The rooms are stylish, comfortable and perfectly appointed; the pool area (with hot tubs both indoors and outdoors) is inviting for the entire family; and the sunset bagpiper caps each day with a nod to the Old World. Ross Bridge is an idyllic host to golfers and families alike.

Pursell Farms: The Pursell family farm doubles as an outdoor lover’s dream with hunting, shooting, fishing and golfing — pretty much everything you could want out of a ranch-style resort. The golf cottages and cabins are designed with groups of traveling golfers in mind, and the new 40-room Inn at Pursell Farms has expanded the lodging options even more. Between the FarmLinks golf course, the adventure activities and the leisure setting, you’ll leave Pursell Farms feeling like a different (and probably better) person.

Dining hot spots
Saw’s Soul Kitchen and Saw’s Juke Joint
: I consider this place to be the “World’s Longest BBQ Restaurant” in that you can essentially smell and taste the food for the entirety of the 3.4 miles between Saw’s Soul Kitchen at 215 41st St. South and Saw’s Juke Joint at 1115 Dunston Ave. Both are equally great, and the real winner eats at both.

Brock’s at Renaissance Ross Bridge: Sometimes the best dining is right underneath you. As in, just a few floors below your room. And that’s certainly the case at Brock’s, the marquee restaurant at Ross Bridge Resort. Our Golf Trip Experts have had some truly memorable meals at Brock’s, where Mediterranean flair meets farm-to-table, resulting in unforgettable entrees (the steaks and pasta dishes are some of the best we’ve found).

Old Tom’s Pub at Pursell Farms: Another “don’t leave the resort for great food” option is found at this Scottish-American gastropub. More of an upscale bar with an exceptional menu, Old Tom’s is the kind of place where you just want to hang out with friends, shoot pool (on Gomer Pyle’s table) and sample pretty much everything on the menu — Shrimp & Grits Pizza, Country-Fried Steak Burger and Hay-Roasted Pork Chop among the many options (and don’t forget the milkshakes!)

For the complete article please see

Hundreds of travel professionals in India learn about Alabama
Last week 381 travel professionals in India participated in a webinar from Brand USA on American destinations. Alabama was among the locations featured.

It’s all part of Brand USA’s Discover USA educational seminars, learning about diverse travel experiences to the United States.

Brand USA educated the agents – about destinations beyond U.S. gateway cities and how to promote those to their clients. Travelers in India prefer new and diverse travel excursions for their holiday travel.

India is one of the fastest growing international markets to Alabama. From 2013 to 2018, visitors from India grew 81%. Tourism Economics estimates that the almost 10,000 visitors from India spent $22 million dollars in Alabama in 2018.

The India webinar was held last Wednesday, April 24.

Talking points for each slide in the PowerPoint presentation was as follows:

U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Space Camp 
Huntsville is home to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Space Camp (astronaut “training” for children and even adults and families). Location of many movies including the most recent “ZERO” movie. Locations in the film included the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, downtown Huntsville, Grille 29 restaurant, Huntsville Botanical Garden, Von Braun Center and the Hindu Cultural Centre of North Alabama.

There are hundreds of children who enroll in Space Camp from India every year. It’s a great educational program. Once enrolled at Space Camp, the housing and food are all on site and included in the price.

Regular tourist can see the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, the world’s largest space museum. It’s a half day to full day experience. Other sites of interest include the Huntsville Botanical Garden and Huntsville’s city center.  Huntsville is Two-hour drive from either Nashville or Atlanta.

Muscle Shoals and Florence
Also, in North Alabama are the small Alabama cities that make up an area referred to as Muscle Shoals. Many may know that in America, Nashville is where country music artists record and Memphis was where blues artist recorded songs. The third Southern USA recording center is Muscle Shoals, Alabama, located between Memphis and Nashville but just a few miles south in Alabama. You can visit the recording studios where Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and other famous musicians made their records. It is a three-hour drive from either Memphis or Nashville. And Muscle Shoals is only a short drive from Huntsville as they are both in the northern part of Alabama.

Alabama’s largest city is Birmingham. With one-million population in its immediate area, you will see taller buildings and a city center that includes five entertainment districts with restaurants and nightlife. Among those restaurants is one called Highland Bar & Grill, which was named America’s Most Outstanding Restaurant in 2018. That’s the best restaurant in all of America.

Birmingham is not only Alabama’s largest city; it is the location of the world’s largest motorcycle collection – you can see the collection at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. There is also a racetrack at Barber’s and a Porsche Driving Experience.

There are many great restaurants in Birmingham. Pictured in the slideshow, is Bottega Restaurant on Highland Avenue in downtown Birmingham.

Birmingham is one of two important cities located near the center of Alabama.

The other city in the center of Alabama is Montgomery. Voted one of the best historic cities in America, Montgomery is home to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s church and home as well to dozens of museums. It’s a 2.5-hour drive from Atlanta and only 90 minutes south of Birmingham.

King adopted  Mahatma Gandhi’s approach to standing up to oppression with “truth-force” and became one of the United States’ most famous civil rights leaders.

A short drive from Montgomery is Selma, where additional history was made in the Selma-to-Montgomery march.

Montgomery has more sites on the U.S. Civil Rights Trail than any other city in America.

Montgomery is a very walkable compact city center. Stay in any of the hotels in the city’s center and you can walk to restaurants and to over a dozen museum and attractions. Some of the museums are free of charge as they are operated by the Alabama government.

Alabama is a fun area of America … and the biggest party is the annual Mardi Gras celebration in Mobile. Now Mobile is located on the southern end of Alabama.

Mobile is the spiritual home of America’s Mardi Gras as it was the first place where that celebration was held in the United States. Both adults and children love to come out to the many Mardi Gras parades and catch a pair of beads and other parade throws including a called cookie made of marshmallow, graham and chocolate called moon pie.

But Mobile is more than just Mardi Gras. In many ways Mobile is a sister city to New Orleans. Both have the same style of buildings and city squares and both are major port cities on the Gulf of Mexico. Top attractions in Mobile include nature tours and the WWII battleship the USS Alabama. By the way, Mobile is less than 2.5-hour drive from its sister city, New Orleans.

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
Also, on the southern end of Alabama are the two beach resort cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach. Enjoy 50 kilometers of white-sand beaches, along with nightlife and fresh seafood in these two resort destinations. There is no driving on the beach – the sand is too soft. And you should wear your sunglasses – not so much from the sun overhead but from the reflection of the sun on the white sand. Deep sea fishing, dolphin boat tours, plenty of live music and fun can all be found in this area of Alabama, located on the Gulf of Mexico.

The two resort cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are separated by the Gulf State Park, a natural area with two miles of white sand beach and only one hotel – making it a great location.

Gulf Shores and Orange Beach are all less than 3.5-hour drive from New Orleans.

Music Festivals
One of the best examples of Southern Rock, the song “Sweet Home Alabama” is a tribute to the state. Experience the state’s festivals, bars and music halls to hear authentic, local, live music.

The festivals include the Hangout Music Festival, held each year on the beach at Gulf Shores, Alabama.

But there are smaller festivals throughout the state that are just as much fun

And near Birmingham is a place called Gips’ Place. It is the last known backyard Juke Joint in the entire USA. Yes, you really show up on a Saturday night and go to Henry Gipson’s backyard to hear live music and have a great time.

For more information, contact

2019 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism
The 2019 Alabama Governor’s Conference on Tourism is August 17-20, at the Von Braun Center and Embassy Suites in Huntsville. The conference provides tourism professionals a chance to gather and learn about the economic impact of the industry on the Alabama economy, learn new strategies for marketing local Alabama attractions and amenities to visitors, raise money for scholarships through silent auctions and celebrate achievements.

Registration and Reservations at

Alabama Welcome Center Retreat 2019
Alabama Welcome Center Retreat 2019 will be held at The Lodge at Gulf State Park, October 27-29. The Alabama Welcome Center Retreat gives the Alabama Tourism Industry the opportunity to showcase our communities with the devoted staff of the Alabama Welcome Centers. The Welcome Centers close so each employee can participate in this educational retreat.

Information and Registration coming soon!

“Partner Pointer” for the tourism industry website

Would you like to be featured in the 2020 Alabama Vacation Guide? Login to your Partner account and submit your events by June 30. Be sure to include an image.


Tourism Tuesdays is a free electronic newsletter produced by the Alabama Tourism Department. It contains news about the state tourism department and the Alabama tourism industry.

The newsletter can also be accessed online by going to:

To subscribe to the newsletter please contact Dwayne O’Riley at:

Alabama Tourism Department