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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Rick Hall--An appreciation

"The Father of the Muscle Shoals Sound"

Located on the south bank of the Tennessee River in northwestern Alabama some 30 miles south of Tennessee, Muscle Shoals, the biggest city of Colbert County, Alabama (population estimated at 13,706 in 2015), is eponymous with a blend of country, gospel and R&B music that has made the so-called Muscle Shoals Sound as distinct and identifiable as the Nashville Sound (country) and the Memphis Sound (R&B).

Indeed, Muscle Shoals is situated between the two Tennessee music centers and has been able to draw upon their two music styles since the 1960s, in great part thanks to Rick Hall, the songwriter, musician, music publisher, record producer, and most notably, owner of Muscle Shoals’ legendary FAME Studios, where, as the “Father of Muscle Shoals Music,” he recorded and promoted country and soul music and helped nurture the careers of household names like Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Duane Allman and Etta James.

Allman biographer Randy Poe, who conceived, compiled, produced, and wrote the liner notes for the 1993 CD compilation The Muscle Shoals Sound (it included such Muscle Shoals-produced classics as James’ “Tell Mama,” Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (the Way that I Love You),” Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman,” Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” the Staples Singers’ “I’ll Take You There” and Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music”), first met Hall in 1977.

“We stayed in touch over the years and he was very helpful with both interviews and photos when I was writing Skydog: The Duane Allman Story,” recalls Poe, Allman having been a studio musician at FAME (an acronym for Florence Alabama Music Enterprises, the studio having been originally located in nearby Florence) in addition to heading the Allman Brothers Band.

“There would have been no Muscle Shoals recording industry without Rick Hall,” Poe continues. “There were some talented guys with little recording studios in town before Rick arrived, but he’s the one who was responsible for the first hit recorded there--Arthur Alexander’s ‘You Better Move On’-- and the second hit recorded there—‘Steal Away’ by Jimmy Hughes. And although the third Muscle Shoals hit, ‘When a Man Loves a Woman,’ was recorded at another studio in town, Rick was the one who pitched the master to Atlantic Records. So, in a major way, Rick was responsible for that one, too. And after ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’ went to No. 1, recording artists started coming to Muscle Shoals in droves.”

According to Poe, Hall was “one of those left-brain/right-brain guys who didn’t just own the recording studio.”

“A lot of times he also wrote the song and produced the record--and even if he didn’t write the song, he was smart enough to usually end up with the publishing rights, too. He had hits on his own FAME label--distributed first by Vee-Jay and later by Atlantic--but he also produced records for other labels.”

Hall’s musical tastes, Poe adds, “were diverse, to say the least. The same guy who was responsible for producing some of the funkiest soul records in the history of soul music--from Clarence Carter to Candy Staton to Wilson Pickett--was also responsible for producing the Osmonds’ ‘One Bad Apple’ and Paul Anka’s ‘(You’re) Having My Baby.’”

He also produced songs for pop music great Tommy Roe.

“I did my first recording session at FAME in 1963--and Rick was the engineer,” says Roe. “We recorded several songs and one of them, ‘Everybody,’ turned out to be my second big hit after ‘Sheila’ on the Billboard charts, making to the Top 5.”

“We recorded everything at Rick’s studio to quarter-inch tape, and it was all mixed on the fly by Rick,” relates Roe. “He was a great guy, a great talent—a genius in the studio. Working with him early in my career was a tremendous learning experience for me.”

And Poe notes that besides Allman, “some of the greatest studio musicians in the world got their starts with Rick: Spooner Oldham, Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, Roger Hawkins, Eddie Hinton, Pete Carr. The list goes on and on.”

Tommy Roe's "Everybody"



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