Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Rick Hall RIP

The first big music death of the year has arrived already. And what a big name it is - that of Rick Hall, at the age of 85, the man who recorded countless great soul records at his FAME studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Rick played bass in an R and B group The Fairlanes, with saxophonist Billy Sherrill, fronted by Dan Penn, with Hall playing bass. He also began writing songs and had success with George Jones, Brenda Lee and Roy Orbison. In 1959, he and Sherrill went into partnership with Tom Stafford, the owner of a recording studio, to set up a new music publishing company in the town of Florence, to be known as Florence Alabama Music Enterprises, or FAME. In 1960, Sherrill and Stafford dissolved the partnership, leaving Hall with the rights to the studio name. Hall then set up FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, where one of his first recordings was Arthur Alexander's You Better Move On. The commercial success of the record gave Hall the financial resources to establish a new, larger FAME recording studio. 
Hall's successes continued with recordings by Tommy Roe, the Tams, Joe Tex and Jimmy Hughes. However, in 1964 Hall's regular session group, which included David Briggs, Norbert Putnam, Earl 'Peanuts' Montgomery and Donnie Fritts, left to set up a studio of their own in Nashville, but he got together a new studio band, including Spooner Oldham, Jimmy Johnson, David Hood and Roger Hawkins. In 1966 Hall helped license Percy Sledge's When A Man Loves A Woman, which had been recorded in Norala Studios in nearby Sheffield, Alabama, to Atlantic Records, which led to a recording deal with Atlantic. resulting in many Atlantic artists recording at Muscle Shoals. including Wilson Pickett. Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Clarence Carter and Arthur Conley. Rick fell out with Atlantic following a dispute with Aretha's husband Ted White, but FAME became the go-to place for soul artists and among those who recorded there (some courtesy of Chess) were Etta James, Irma Thomas, Candi Staton and Willie Hightower. In the seventies Rick moved away from soul music, recording acts such as the Osmonds, Paul Anka and Tom Jones, but FAME remained a significant recording studio. 
I visited FAME in 2013 but unfortunately Rick was not around. We arrived just in time for a studio tour hosted by studio manager John Gifford, who gave a fascinating talk about the studio's colourful history. I was sorry to miss out on meeting Rick, but there's no doubt that he was one of the most important names in all soul history. RIP Rick - you will not be forgotten.


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