Wishbone Recording Studio

Wishbone Recording Studio. (Photo courtesy of Terry Woodford.)

Wishbone Recording Studio

1920 Webster Street, Muscle Shoals

Wishbone Recording Studio was a proving ground for songwriters like Mac McAnally and Robert Byrne, and recorded albums by such legends as Roy Orbison and Hank Williams, Jr.

Wishbone Productions was established in 1971 by songwriter-musician Terry Woodford and former FAME keyboard player Clayton Ivey. In the beginning, Woodford and Ivey used a variety of different studios in the Shoals and elsewhere to record their artists, and released their first full-length album production, Reuben Howell’s self-titled debut, in April 1973. The following year, the pair got their big break when they signed an exclusive production arrangement with Howell’s label, Motown Records.

“We were their first white producers. We had an apartment in California. They gave us an office, and we could actually sign talent to Motown.”

     —Terry Woodford

Terry Woodford and Clayton Ivey. (Photo courtesy of Dick Cooper.)

In 1975, Woodford and Ivey joined other Motown producers and artists in contributing to "symphonic disco-funk studio project" The Magic Disco Machine. Their instrumental "Scratchin'" appeared on the project's debut album, Disc-O-Tech, and was also featured as the B-side to the album's second single, "Control Tower." It has since gone on to become one of the ten most sampled tracks of the hip hop era, and is currently being used on the Netflix series The Get Down.

Wishbone ended its ties with Motown in 1976 and built its own studio on Webster Avenue, across from the Muscle Shoals Airport. It was a state-of-the-art facility at the time, boasting the first 24-track recorder in the Shoals area.

Woodford and Ivey further distinguished themselves from local competitors in their treatment of staff songwriters. While other local publishers paid writers "only when a song produced an income," Wishbone supported songwriters during their "developmental stages," ensuring that they "had money to pay for food and rent by placing them on draw as soon as the company signed them to a contract."

“When I first started out in publishing, I studied the charts for six months and tried to pick out technically all the ingredients that seemed to me to be common to hit records, and apply these rules to the songs. The writers eventually learn them, and applying the rules becomes automatic. If the songs conform to most of the rules, they are acceptable.”

     —Terry Woodford

Among the successful local songwriters who honed their craft at Wishbone were Mac McAnally and Robert Byrne. Woodward and Ivey themselves co-wrote (with staff songwriter Tommy Brasfield) the Wishbone-recorded hit “Angel in Your Arms,” which was named Billboard magazine's “Song of the Year” in 1977.

Terry Woodford, Mac McAnally, Randy Owen, Donny Lowery and Kevin Lamb. (Photo courtesy of Terry Woodford.)

“One of my greatest abilities was to take a songwriter and develop that person into someone who wrote for money. Songwriting’s about ninety-five percent craft and five percent inspiration.”

     —Terry Woodford

The studio closed in the mid-1980s, when Woodford decided to liquidate Wishbone Productions and devote his attention to the production and marketing of Baby Go to Sleep, a lullaby tape used to calm critically ill infants. Bud McGuire bought the studio and reopened it during the 1990s. It is currently owned by Billy Lawson, a former Wishbone songwriter.