With the death of Rick Hall, the music world has lost one of its most successful entrepreneurs, colorful personalities and dynamic creators.
The man who put Muscle Shoals, Alabama on the map as a music mecca passed away at age 85 on Jan. 2. He had been battling cancer.
As a record producer, studio owner, engineer, music publisher, songwriter and deal maker, Rick Hall touched the lives and careers of such greats as Aretha Franklin, Mac Davis, Wilson Pickett, Ronnie Milsap, Shenandoah, Duane Allman, The Osmonds, Tom Jones, Paul Anka, Alabama, Liza Minnelli and Etta James.
He rose from desperate poverty to become a figure of international renown. A native of North Alabama, Hall was raised in log cabins with no amenities. His mother deserted the family when he was four. His father was a moonshiner, sharecropper, carpenter and saw mill worker who raised his barefoot children on a diet of wild game.
The future mogul began his musical career as a square dance fiddler. In the 1950s, he started making trips to Nashville to peddle his songs.
Back home in Alabama, he formed a partnership with Tom Stafford and Billy Sherrill. They built a studio above Stafford’s father’s drug store in Florence, AL. Sherrill coined its name, FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises). After two years of moderate success, the partnership dissolved. Sherrill moved to Nashville and became one of the most successful record producers and songwriters in the city’s history.
Hall kept the FAME name and opened his own studio on Wilson Dam Avenue in 1959. There, he produced “You Better Move On” written and sung by hotel bellhop Arthur Alexander. In 1962, it became the first international hit recorded in the Muscle Shoals area.
Using the profits from that hit, plus investment from his father-in-law, Hall built a new studio on Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals. This is where he produced 1964’s “Steal Away” by Jimmy Hughes.
Working as his studio’s engineer, Hall helped to craft Tommy Roe’s “Everybody” (1963), The Tams’ “What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)” (1964) and other key pop hits of the early 1960s.
Soul stars began beating a path to FAME’s door. Hall produced or co-produced Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man” (1967) and “Do Right Woman” (1967), James & Bobby Purify’s “I’m Your Puppet” (1966), Joe Tex’s “Hold What You’ve Got” (1965), Clarence Carter’s “Slip Away” (1968) and “Patches” (1970), Etta James’ “Tell Mama” (1967) and the Wilson Pickett smashes “Mustang Sally” (1966), “Funky Broadway” (1967) and “Land of 1,000 Dances” (1966).
He molded local musicians into becoming studio professionals. Among the notable graduates of his Muscle Shoals sessions are Jerry Carrigan, David Hawkins, Barry Beckett, Dan Penn, David Briggs, Norbert Putnam, David Hood, Spooner Oldham, Terry Thompson, Jimmy Johnson and Chips Moman.
In 1970, MGM chief Mike Curb approached Rick Hall about producing The Osmonds in Muscle Shoals. The results were such hits as “One Bad Apple” (1971), “Yo-Yo” (1971), “Down By the Lazy River” (1972) and “Sweet and Innocent” (Donnny Osmond, 1972, co-written by Hall) and sales of 11 million.
Hall was named Producer of the Year by Billboard in 1971. Bobbie Gentry (“Fancy,” 1970), Paul Anka (“You’re Having My Baby,” 1974) and Candi Staton (“Stand By Your Man,” 1970) followed The Osmonds to FAME. So did Andy Williams, Liza Minnelli, Lou Rawls, Tom Jones and dozens of others.
Mac Davis came to FAME for “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me” (1972), “Stop and Smell the Roses” (1974), “Texas In My Rear View Mirror” (1980) and “Hooked on Music” (1981) and more. This led Rick Hall back to his first love, country music.
During the 1980s, T.G. Sheppard, Larry Gatlin, Jerry Reed, Gus Hardin, Terri Gibbs, Vern Gosdin, Billy Joe Royal, Tom Wopat and other country stars made the pilgrimage to FAME.
Rick Hall became an inaugural inductee into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1985.
Next, Hall discovered the local Muscle Shoals band Shenandoah and brought it to country fame with such hits as “Church On the Cumberland Road” (1990), “Mama Knows” (1990) and “Ghost in This House” (1991).
By the close of the 1990s, Rick Hall had produced 24 top-10 country hits, 26 top-10 pop hits and 33 top-10 r&b hits. His songs had been recorded by George Jones, Brenda Lee, Roy Orbison, The Amazing Rhythm Aces, Otis Redding, Booker T & The MGs, Huey Lewis, Little Richard, Sam & Dave and T. Graham Brown.
In addition, songs from Hall’s publishing company were making regular appearances on the country charts in the 1990s. His staff writers included Walt Aldridge, Tommy Brasfield, Mark Hall, Robert Byrne, Gary Baker and Frank Myers.
“There’s No Getting Over Me,” “I Swear,” “I Like It, I Love It,” “Holding Her and Loving You,” “”She’s Got a Single Thing In Mind,” “I Sure Can Smell the Rain,” “Leave Him Out of This” and “Crime of Passion” are among Hall’s publishing award winners.
Among the albums recently recorded and/or mixed at FAME are Gregg Allman’s Southern Blood, Third Day’s Revival and John Paul White’s Beula.
In 2013, Rick Hall was prominently featured in the acclaimed documentary Muscle Shoals. He was presented with a Trustees Award by The Recording Academy in 2014. He published his autobiography in 2015, The Man From Muscle Shoals: My Journey From Shame to Fame.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced.
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