"The Devil Was Beating His Wife"
On a road trip down from Tennessee to the Gulf Coast, travel writer Kevin West spins a tale of discovery in his April 2019 article for Travel & Leisure magazine. He begins with six very provocative words: “The devil was beating his wife as I crossed the Alabama state line. I was driving from Nashville, in a hurry to reach Muscle Shoals, and I had gotten to the point where I-65 snakes down from middle Tennessee’s Highland Rim. When the highway levels out again and runs straight, you’re in the cotton-growing Heart of Dixie, as Alabama has been known since the 1950s.”
YES, IT’S SOUTHERN FOLKLORE
The title of this blog is the real deal. Or, as West explains, “The windshield wipers on my Kia “Soul” rental car (that’s what they call it) tried to keep pace with this August downpour. The sun broke through, but the rain never let up – in Southern folklore that’s the devil beating his wife.” I think that’s a saying for the ages.
ON TO MUSCLE SHOALS, ALABAMA
I definitely remember the first time I read the name “Muscle Shoals” – what in the world? What a great name! This spot wasn’t on West’s itinerary but, when he was in Nashville he heard that Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul had died, so he decided to stop at FAME Studios, where she made her career-defining hit record, “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You.”
THE STONES IN A HOTBED OF GREAT MUSIC
I came across this famous spot in Alabama while digging for info about the Rolling Stones. Fifty years ago (it was December 2-4, 1969) the Stones recorded three songs at this spot, namely: “Brown Sugar,” “Wild Horses” and “You Gotta Move.”
The group had a few days off during their U.S. tour so Keith Richards suggested they go to the studio. “It worked very well – it’s one of Keith’s things to go in and record while you’re in the middle of a tour and your playing is in good shape,” said Charlie Watts in the book “According to the Rolling Stones.” Note: the Stones are workaholics.
WHY ARE THE BRITS IN THE DEEP SOUTH?
The answer is very simple: this was a great studio to work in, a very hip place to be. On their first night, the Stones tracked “You Gotta Move,” a traditional spiritual number. On December 3rd, the band cut “Brown Sugar” written by Mick Jagger who would attribute the song’s sound to Muscle Shoals. “It was pretty funky,” he says. And Richards agrees, “We knew we had one of the best things we’d ever done.” “Wild Horses” was written on the spot. Bottom line: the Stones believe it was one of the easiest sessions they’d ever done. Chalk it all up to Muscle Shoals!
ON TO BIRMINGHAM, FOUNDED IN 1871
This is considered a relatively new city. Its early iron and steel industries transformed the raw red-clay landscape so quickly that it earned the nickname Magic City. Over the years it sprouted skyscrapers, hotels, theatres and department stores.
Of course, we all know about the civil rights movement and Alabama’s unfathomably painful past. Or, as Mayor Woodfin says, “Birmingham is unique in that we reckoned with our differences on the world stage. It happened in other cities, but here you saw it.”
CLICK HERE for “Way Down South” from “My Cousin Vinny”