Muscle Shoals Songwriter And Producer, Rick Hall Dies At 85

Jan 3, 2018
Originally published on January 3, 2018 8:03 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Muscle Shoals, Ala., is a small town a couple hours east of Memphis and south of Nashville. Starting in the 1960s, it drew some of the best musicians in the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TELL MAMA")

ETTA JAMES: (Singing) You thought you had found a good girl, one to love you and give you the world.

SHAPIRO: Etta James, Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin went to Muscle Shoals all because of a man named Rick Hall who died yesterday at the age of 85. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this appreciation.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Rick Hall's influence on music was primarily as a producer who created the Muscle Shoals sound, a Southern soul. He was white, and he grew up in poverty, as he told NPR in 2015.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

RICK HALL: We slept in squalid conditions with bedbugs eating us up every night and the whole thing. So we were very, very, very poor.

LIMBONG: His mom left the family when he was small.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "MUSCLE SHOALS")

RICK HALL: That made me a little bitter.

LIMBONG: This is Hall talking in the 2013 documentary "Muscle Shoals."

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "MUSCLE SHOALS")

RICK HALL: I wanted to be special. I wanted to be somebody.

LIMBONG: He picked music because his father was a Sunday school singing teacher who loved country gospel. Here's Hall on NPR again.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

RICK HALL: So consequently, he taught me and my sister to sing harmonies together, and so that's why I got into it (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU BETTER MOVE ON")

ARTHUR ALEXANDER: (Singing) You ask me to give up the hand of the girl I love.

LIMBONG: That was Hall's first hit as a producer - Arthur Alexander's "You Better Move On."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU BETTER MOVE ON")

ALEXANDER: (Singing) But, my friend, that will never be. You better move on.

LIMBONG: A few years earlier, Hall started FAME Studios with two other partners. The partnership didn't don't work, out and he moved it to Muscle Shoals, Ala., where it still stands today. Rodney Hall is Rick Hall's youngest son, who still runs FAME Studios.

RODNEY HALL: As far as a signature sound, you know, he was big into vocals and making the vocals just as soulful as he could.

LIMBONG: Take the song "Stand By Your Man."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAND BY YOUR MAN")

TAMMY WYNETTE: (Singing) Stand by your man.

LIMBONG: Here's Tammy Wynette's original country version from Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAND BY YOUR MAN")

WYNETTE: (Singing) Give him two arms to cling to and something warm to...

LIMBONG: Then Rick Hall and gospel singer Candi Staton turned it into this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STAND BY YOUR MAN")

CANDI STATON: (Singing) Stand by your man, and show the world you love him. He's given you all the love he can.

He took the country out of "Stand By Your Man." I put the soul in it. That's Rick Hall.

LIMBONG: And this is Candi Staton.

STATON: He was looking for a passion. He was looking for a feel. And he taught me how to do that. He taught me how to sing from my spirit, soul, from my heart.

LIMBONG: Rick Hall did that with a lot of artists who sought him out, including the Osmonds, Paul Anka, Otis Redding.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU LEFT THE WATER RUNNING")

OTIS REDDING: (Singing) You left the water running when you left me behind.

LIMBONG: Rick Hall worked with a lot of black acts, which for 1960s and '70s Alabama could be an uncomfortable thing outside the studio. Candi Staton remembers a time in 1968 after recording when they all went out to eat.

STATON: The people inside the restaurant was, like - stopped eating and looked around at us, all of this motley crew coming in. And Rick stood up and says, what are you looking at?

LIMBONG: Inside the studio, it didn't matter if you were black, white, singer, session bassist or even his own family. He worked you hard to be special. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I NEVER LOVED A MAN THE WAY I LOVE YOU")

ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing) Some time ago I thought you had run out of fools. But I was so wrong. You get one that you'll never lose. The way to treat me is a shame. How could... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.