January 31, 1932 - January 2, 2018
Recognized as the “Father of Muscle Shoals Music,” maverick producer, publisher, songwriter, musician and studio owner Rick Hall founded FAME Recording Studios and produced the Muscle Shoals music industry’s first national hits. He went on to record artists ranging from Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, Etta James and Candi Staton to Mac Davis, Bobbie Gentry, the Osmonds, Paul Anka and Shenandoah.
Born in Tishomingo County, Mississippi, and raised in the Freedom Hills region of Franklin County, Hall began his professional career playing fiddle with the Country Pals. The popular group performed at square dances and hosted their own weekly regional radio show in Hamilton. Hall scored his first songwriting successes when George Jones recorded his song “Aching Breaking Heart” and Brenda Lee cut the Hall composition “She’ll Never Know.”
While they were both living in Phil Campbell, Hall and fellow musician Billy Sherrill became songwriting partners and later formed their own rock ’n’ roll and R&B band, the Fairlanes. After Roy Orbison cut the Hall/Sherrill composition “Sweet and Innocent” in 1959, the duo accepted an invitation from music enthusiast Tom Stafford to move to the Muscle Shoals area and launch a new publishing company – Florence Alabama Music Enterprises (FAME) – above the City Drug Store in downtown Florence. In 1960, the partnership dissolved and Hall took the publishing company to Muscle Shoals, where he established his own studio in a candy-and-tobacco warehouse on Wilson Dam Road.
A year later, Hall produced “You Better Move On,” written and recorded by Sheffield singer and hotel bellhop Arthur Alexander. The single climbed to No. 24 on the pop charts in 1962, giving Hall the proceeds to custom build his all-new FAME Recording Studios on Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals. From there, his national success continued with Tommy Rowe’s “Everybody,” the Tams’ “What Kind of a Fool Do You Think I Am?,” Jimmy Hughes’ “Steal Away,” Joe Simon’s “Let’s Do It Over” and Joe Tex’s “Hold What You’ve Got.”
Forging an alliance with Atlantic Records in 1966, Hall further enhanced his reputation as a white Southern producer who could produce and engineer hits with black Southern soul singers. The long list of Southern soul classics recorded at FAME includes Wilson Pickett’s “Land of a Thousand Dances,” “Mustang Sally” and “Funky Broadway,” James and Bobby Purify’s “I’m Your Puppet,” Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You)” and “Do Right Woman (Do Right Man),” Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away” and “Patches,” Arthur Conley’s “Sweet Soul Music” and Otis Redding’s “You Left the Water Running.” Hall also produced Etta James’ signature tune, “Tell Mama,” for the Chicago-based Chess Records.
In the 1970s, Hall shifted into the lucrative world of mainstream pop, recording a long string of hits for the Osmonds (“One Bad Apple,” “Double Lovin,’ ” “Yo-Yo”) and Donny Osmond (“Go Away, Little Girl”). He also produced Bobbie Gentry’s “Fancy,” Mac Davis’ “Baby, Don’t Get Hooked on Me” and Paul Anka’s comeback record, the No. 1 smash “You’re Having My Baby.” Billboard named him Producer of the Year for the World in 1971.
Reuniting with Davis, Hall produced the country-pop crossover hits “Texas in My Rear-View Mirror” and “Hooked on Music” before full embracing his country roots with two back-to-back No. 1 hits on Jerry Reed, “She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)” and “The Bird.” Expanding his success in the country market, Hall produced hits for T.G. Sheppard (“You’re My First Lady”), Gus Hardin (“After the Last Goodbye”) and Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers (“What Are We Doin’ Lonesome?”).
Working with songwriter and co-producer Robert Byrne, Hall developed the Muscle Shoals bar band Shenandoah into one of the most successful country acts of the 1980s. The group topped the charts with “Mama Knows,” “The Church on Cumberland Road,” “Sunday in the South,” “Moon Over Georgia” and “Ghost in This House.” Meanwhile, Hall’s publishing company became a dominant force in country music with some of the era’s biggest hits, from Ronnie Milsap’s “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me” and Ricky Van Shelton’s “(I Am) A Simple Man” to the country-pop crossover smash “I Swear” (recorded by John Michael Montgomery and All 4-One) and Tim McGraw’s “I Like It, I Love It.”
Moving into the 21st century, Hall recorded three songs with the country supergroup Alabama for their When It All Goes South anniversary album. In 2007, he reactivated his FAME Records label through a distribution deal with EMI that combined new material by FAME artists with reissues of classic recordings from Muscle Shoals’ Southern soul heyday.