The Fame Gang were an American rhythm & blues session group. Rick Hall hired the Fame Gang as the new studio band. This group backed up singers such as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, Bobbie Gentry, Etta James, and Candi Staton during recording sessions at FAME Studios. The Fame Gang, also called the Third FAME Rhythm Section, consisted of eight musicians plus arranger-producer Mickey Buckins.
The session musicians who worked first at the the Fame studio became known as the Muscle Shoals Horns and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (or the Swampers). In 1969, just after Rick Hall had signed a deal with Capitol Records, the four primary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section members (Barry Beckett (keyboards), Jimmy Johnson (guitar), Roger Hawkins (drums), and David Hood (bass)), left to found a competing business, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, originally at 3614 Jackson Highway in nearby Sheffield, Alabama. FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) Studios are located at 603 East Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, an area of northern Alabama known as the Shoals. Though small and distant from the main recording locations of the American music industry, FAME has produced a large number of hit records and was instrumental in what came to be known as the Muscle Shoals sound. It was started in the 1950s by Rick Hall, known as the Founder of Muscle Shoals Music. The studio, owned by Hall until his death in 2018, is still actively operating. It was added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage on December 15, 1997, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016. The 2013 award-winning documentary Muscle Shoals features Rick Hall, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (also called The Swampers), and the Muscle Shoals sound originally popularized by FAME.
FAME (standing for Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) was founded by Rick Hall, Billy Sherrill, and Tom Stafford in the late 1950s. It was first located above the City Drug Store in Florence, Alabama. Two doors down was a pawn shop - "Uncle Sams" - where aspiring artists would buy or pawn their instruments, depending on the trajectory of their careers. The studio was moved to a former tobacco warehouse on Wilson Dam Road in Muscle Shoals in the early 1960s, when Hall split from Sherrill and Stafford. Hall soon recorded the first hit record from the Muscle Shoals area, Arthur Alexander's "You Better Move On" in 1961. Hall took the proceeds from that recording to build the current facility, on Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals. In 1963, he recorded the first hit produced in that building, Jimmy Hughes' "Steal Away".
As the word about Muscle Shoals began to spread other artists began coming there to record. The Nashville producer Felton Jarvis brought Tommy Roe and recorded Roe's song "Everybody" in 1963. The Atlanta music publisher Bill Lowery, who had mentored Hall in his early days, sent the Tams. The Nashville publisher and producer Buddy Killen brought Joe Tex. Leonard Chess encouraged Etta James to record there, and she made her 1967 hit "Tell Mama" and the album of the same name at FAME. Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records brought both Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin to record. The recording session with Franklin brought conflict: one of the horn players sexually harassed the singer, and her husband had him fired from the session. Later that evening Hall went over to make up with Franklin and her husband, but a fight ensued, and the recording session was canceled. Wexler swore to Hall he would never work with him again.
Duane Allman, later of the Allman Brothers Band, once pitched a tent and camped out in the parking lot of FAME Studios in an effort to be near the recording sessions occurring there. He soon befriended Rick Hall and Wilson Pickett, who was recording there. While on lunch break, Allman taught Pickett "Hey Jude"; their version of the song was eventually recorded in 1968, with Allman playing lead guitar. On hearing the session, people at Atlantic began asking who had played the guitar solos, and Hall responded with a hand-written note that read "some hippie cat who's been living in our parking lot". Shortly afterward, Allman was offered a recording contract; auditions for the Allman Brothers Band were later held at FAME Studios. Allman loved the area, and frequently returned to the Shoals for session work throughout his life.
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