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Biography

  • Born

    31 January 1932

  • Born In

    Tishomingo County, Mississippi, United States

  • Died

    2 January 2018 (aged 85)

Roe Erister "Rick" Hall (January 31, 1932 – January 2, 2018) was an American record producer, songwriter, music publisher, and musician best known as the owner and proprietor of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and "Father of Muscle Shoals Music". Hall was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1985 and also received the John Herbert Orr Pioneer Award. In 2014, he won the Grammy Trustees Award in recognition of his lengthy career. Hall remained active in the music industry with FAME Studios, FAME Records, and FAME Publishing.
He wrote a.o.: "You Left The Water Running" with Dan Penn, recorded by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett a.o., "Sweet Feeling" with Candi Staton and Clarence Carter, recorded by Candi Staton, "Achin', Breakin' Heart" for George Jones and "Sweet and Innocent" recorded by Roy Orbison a.o..

Hall was born to a family of sharecroppers in Tishomingo County, Mississippi, and was raised in Franklin County, Alabama. He moved to Rockford, Illinois, as a teenager, working as an apprentice toolmaker, and began playing in local bar bands. When he was drafted for the Korean War, he declared himself a conscientious objector, joined the honor guard of the Fourth United States Army, and played in a band which also included Faron Young and the fiddler Gordon Terry.

When Hall returned to Alabama he resumed factory life, working for Reynolds Aluminum in Florence. But when both his new bride and his father died within a two-week period, he lost all interest in a regular job, deciding instead to drift around the area playing guitar, mandolin, and fiddle with Carmol Taylor and the Country Pals. The group appeared on a weekly regional radio show at WERH in Hamilton, Alabama. Subsequently, Hall formed a new R&B group, The Fairlanes with the saxophonist Billy Sherrill fronted by the singer Dan Penn, with Hall playing bass. He also began writing songs at that time.

Hall had his first songwriting successes in the late 1950s, when George Jones recorded his song "Achin', Breakin' Heart", Brenda Lee recorded "She'll Never Know", and Roy Orbison recorded "Sweet and Innocent". In 1959, Hall and Sherrill accepted an offer from Tom Stafford, the owner of a recording studio, to help set up a new music publishing company in the town of Florence, to be known as Florence Alabama Music Enterprises, or FAME. However, in 1960, Sherrill and Stafford dissolved the partnership, leaving Hall with rights to the studio name. Hall then set up FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, 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 after the Atlanta-based agent Bill Lowery brought him acts to record, and the studio produced hits for Tommy Roe, Joe Tex, the Tams, and Jimmy Hughes. However, in 1964, Hall's regular session group—David Briggs, Norbert Putnam, Jerry Carrigan, Earl "Peanut" Montgomery, and Donnie Fritts—became frustrated at being paid minimum union-scale wages by Hall, and left Muscle Shoals to set up a studio of their own in Nashville. Hall then pulled together a new studio band, including Spooner Oldham, Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, and Roger Hawkins, and continued to produce hit records.

In 1966, he helped license Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman", produced by Quin Ivy, to Atlantic Records, which then led to a regular arrangement under which Atlantic would send musicians to Hall's Muscle Shoals studio to record. The studio produced further hit records for Wilson Pickett, James and Bobby Purify, Aretha Franklin, Clarence Carter, Otis Redding, and Arthur Conley, enhancing Hall's reputation as a white Southern producer who could produce and engineer hits for black Southern soul singers. He produced many sessions using guitarist Duane Allman. He also produced recordings for other artists, including Etta James. However, his fiery temperament led to the end of the relationship with Atlantic after he got into a fistfight with Aretha Franklin's husband, Ted White, in late 1967.

In 1969, FAME Records, with artists including Candi Staton, Clarence Carter and Arthur Conley, established a distribution deal with Capitol Records. Hall then turned his attention away from soul music towards mainstream pop, producing hits for the Osmonds, Paul Anka, Tom Jones, and Donny Osmond. Also in 1969, another FAME Studio house band, Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, affectionately called The Swampers, consisting of Barry Beckett (keyboards), Roger Hawkins (drums), Jimmy Johnson (guitar), and David Hood (bass), left the FAME studio to found the competing Muscle Shoals Sound Studio at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, with start-up funding from Jerry Wexler. Subsequently, Hall hired the Fame Gang as the new studio band.

Hall's FAME studio prospered through the 1970s. In 1971, Hall was named Producer of the Year by Billboard magazine, a year after having been nominated for a Grammy in the same category. Later in the decade, Hall moved back towards country music, producing hits for Mac Davis, Bobbie Gentry, Jerry Reed, and the Gatlin Brothers. He also worked with the songwriter and producer Robert Byrne to help a local bar band, Shenandoah, top the national Hot Country Songs chart several times in the 1980s and 1990s.

In 2007, Hall reactivated the FAME Records label through a distribution deal with EMI.

Hall's publishing staff of in-house songwriters wrote some of the biggest country hits in those decades, for artists including Ronnie Milsap, Barbara Mandrell, Alabama, Earl Thomas Conley, John Michael Montgomery, Jerry Reed, Shenandoah, Tim McGraw, Jason Aldean, and the Dixie Chicks, among others. His publishing catalog includes the megahit "I Swear" written by Frank Myers and Gary Baker.

Hall's life and career are profiled in the 2013 documentary film Muscle Shoals. During an interview before the release of the movie, Hall told a journalist that in 2009, he had donated his home to a charity for abused and neglected children. The hits had recorded over the years, and the sale of two of his six publishing catalogs had made him wealthy. In spite of that, at the age of 81, he was still trying to make recording deals.

In 2014, Hall was awarded the Grammy Trustees Award.

Hall published his memoirs in a book titled The Man from Muscle Shoals: My Journey from Shame to Fame, (ISBN 1942603266) in 2015.

He died on January 2, 2018, aged 85, at his home in Muscle Shoals after returning from a stay in a local nursing home shortly before Christmas.

Awards

Hall was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category Producer of the Year in 1970.
He was named Producer of the Year for the World by Billboard magazine in 1971.
He was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1985, his citation referring to him as the "Father of Muscle Shoals Music."
He received a Grammy Trustees Award in 2014 for his significant contribution to the field of recording.
On December 17, 2016, Hall was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Laws degree by the University of North Alabama in Florence.

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