(Above: You may not know this man, but you know his work.)
We might chalk this up as our first major musical loss of 2018: Rick Hall, who engineered the Muscle Shoals sound and, in the process, created dozens of classic R&B records, passed away today at the age of 85.
The list of names that passed through the doors of Fame Studio makes for its own Hall of Fame: Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Etta James. Fame Publishing, which Hall started in 1959, handled songs by Brenda Lee, Roy Orbison, and Tommy Roe, among others. Hall’s studio and his publishing company managed to sell 350 million records – and I haven’t even gotten to The Swampers.
“Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers,” sang Lynyrd Skynyrd. The Swampers were the house rhythm section at Fame Studios until 1969. Put another way, they provided the backbeat on a good chunk of our soundtrack. You’d think that losing a major component of the studio would set it back, but that’s where Hall pivoted to pop, working with Mike Curb to drag the Osmonds (no, really) to Alabama. Later, Hall shifted his work again, focusing on Country music. You know “I Swear,” right? No, not All-4-One – the original one from John Michael Montgomery? Yeah, Hall had a hand in that, too. Add to the roster The Dixie Chicks, Jerry Reed (who did one of the best Country titles at Fame: “She Got the Gold Mine, I Got The Shaft”), George Strait, Martina McBride, and Kenny Chesney. So, no, you may not recognize the name Rick Hall, but you certainly know his work.
Picking just one song to spotlight is difficult. But, this blog is rooted in history if nothing else, so we should start at the very beginning… the first gold record that Hall earned. In 1961 Arthur Alexander came to work with Hall after his first record, “Sally Sue Brown,” didn’t do much on the charts. Record #2 was a different story. “You Better Move On” went to #24 for Alexander, but it’s a pretty darned important record. Bobby Vee covered it in 1962, and from there the list of performers that recorded it includes The Rolling Stones, The Hollies, and George Jones. Alexander went to to record “Anna (Go To Him)” with Hall at the dials, which was an early Beatles release on Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records after Alexander’s work caught their attention. Alexander also did the original version of “Every Day I Have To Cry,” later covered by Steve Alaimo, whose version got considerable airplay in Chicago on WLS and WJJD but didn’t make the national Top 40 despite being a terrific record. But there’s no question that “You Better Move On” is what put Florence Alabama Music Enterprises – Fame – on the national map. The loss of Rick Hall is a loss for our musical heritage in many ways.
You can hear “You Better Move On” by clicking here.