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Rick Hall, Muscle Shoals music legend, dies at 85

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

Music legend Rick Hall passed away Tuesday.  He was 85.

The Alabama Political Reporter covered Hall back on March 19, 2014, when he was in Montgomery speaking to Alabama legislators immediately prior to the start of the day’s legislative session.

The Muscle Shoals musician and record producer was the guest of Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, D from Red Bay, that day in 2014.

After learning of Hall’s death on Tuesday, Morrow said on social media, “I’m so saddened to let all of you know that a Great Music Legend, Rick Hall, passed away this morning. He was not only the dearest of friends, but also, Rick started the music know as “Southern Rock”. As it is said, behind every Great Man is a Great Woman and there was no one more inspirational to Rick than his wife, Linda. Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Hall family.”

Hall said on that day back in 2014, “Thank you so much. Thank the Alabama legislature. Thank all my Friends, Johnny Mack Morrow, my dear friend for all these years and his father before him.  Thank all of you people for being here.”

Rick Hall was a long time member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and received a 2014 Grammy Trustees Award for his significant contribution to the field of recording.

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In the 1950s Hall met saxophonist Billy Sherrill.  The pair began writing songs together, and formed an R&B band, The Fairlanes, fronted by singer Dan Penn.  Hall played bass.

Hall said as a performer, “I got tired of playing in front of drunk women because they were always hitting on me.”

According to Wikipedia, Hall achieved success as a songwriter in the late 1950s when George Jones recorded his song “Aching Breaking Heart.”  Brenda Lee recorded “She’ll Never Know” and Roy Orbison recorded “Sweet and Innocent”

Hall and Sherrill then got into the recording studio business when Tom Stafford in 1959 offered them partnerships in a new music publishing company in the town of Florence, which came to be known as Florence Alabama Music Enterprises or FAME.  Their recording studio was in the offices above City Drug Store in Florence, which was owned by Stafford’s father.

Working with Hall was too difficult for Sherrill and Stafford who dissolved the partnership in 1960, leaving Hall with rights to the studio name.  Hall said, “When we broke up they said I was too hard, too tough, and worked too hard.”  “They fired me.” Hall said, “Rejection is something that I thrived on.  I thought that they were not as smart as I was.”

Hall then set up his own studio at Muscle Shoals which was followed a few years later by a newer studio.

In the 1960s Hall and FAME became heavily involved in recording for Black artists.

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Rep. Morrow asked Hall (who is White), “What made you relate to Black artists?”

Hall answered, “Poverty and we were always aware of each other.”  “They were like my brothers.  I would not be where I am today without them.”  “We were color blind.  We didn’t worry about the color.  They needed a white boy to take their work to the big labels like Columbia and CBS records.”

In the 1960s, the studio produced hits for Tommy Roe, Joe Tex, The Tams, Jimmy Hughes, and Hall helped license Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman.”  Wilson Pickett, James and Bobby Purify, Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, Otis Redding and Arthur Conley came to Muscle Shoals to work with Hall.  Hall also produced recordings for Etta James.

On running a successful recording studio in Muscle Shoals Hall said, “It is very hard to compete with Los Angeles, New York City, Miami with just 8000 people, what we had in Muscle Shoals at the time.”  At one point, there were 12 recording studios in the Muscle Shoals area.

Hall suffered a lot from circumstances.  He was born in Mississippi to sharecroppers.  His young brother fell in boiling water and was killed. His Mom left the family to become a prostitute.  His first wife was killed in a car wreck.

Hall said that when Atlantic sent Wilson Pickett to record with him, Pickett was leery of Muscle Shoals.  He was concerned about his welfare as this was during segregation and George Wallace standing in the school house door.  Pickett said he thought that all of the people of Alabama were peckerwoods.  Pickett was shocked to see people picking cotton by hand right by the studio.  Hall said of meeting Pickett, “I thought he looked like a dangerous man.”  Pickett would record “Land of a Thousand Dances” and “Mustang Sally” with Hall.

Duane Allman wanted to work with Rick Hall.  Hall did not want to work with the young Allman because he did not like the young wannabe performer’s “hippy look.”  Allman pitched a tent in Hall’s parking lot and eventually Hall took Allman to lunch with him and Wilson Pickett.  Allman recorded with Hall and became a southern rock success.

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In the 1970s the Osmonds (a group from Utah) were living with the Halls and made their breakout hits with Hall. Hall’s collaboration with the Osmonds and the hit “One Bad Apple” helped Hall to be awarded “Producer of the Year” in 1971.  Hall also worked with Paul Anka and Tom Jones in this period.

Hall said, “My theory was that if you are a great record producer you will find an act nobody knows and you will find a #1 record.”  Hall said however that it is easier to get a label like CBS or RCA to put up $5 million for an established name than it is for a new act.

Hall’s wife said that he was completely dedicated to his work.  He did take time away from the studio to attend his son’s birth but still managed to find time to record ‘Mustang Sally’ on that same day.

In the late 1970s and 1980s Hall moved into country music, where he worked with Bobbie Gentry, Mac Davis, Jerry Reed, Gus Hardin, T.G. Sheppard, and had a smash album with Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers.  Hall later discovered the local country band, Shenandoah and worked with them on a number of hits in the 1980s and 1990s.

Hall’s publishing company, with its in-house song writers has written hit songs for a number of artists including John Michael Montgomery and the Dixie Chicks.

Hall’s life and career are profiled in the 2013 documentary film, “Muscle Shoals.”

FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) Studios are located at 603 East Avalon in Muscle Shoals.  The studio was added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage on December 15, 1997.

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Both Houses of the Legislature honored Mr. Rick Hall with a resolution honoring his vast contributions to American Music.


Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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