Rick Hall Interview:
The Man Who Produced Aretha Franklin
Shares His Story
Rick Hall, the legendary music producer, has written a book called “The Man From Muscle Shoals: Rick Hall from Fame to Shame.” Now 83-years-old, the book is a memoir of Hall’s incredible, read-it-to-believe-it life.
Hall, also known as “The Father of the Muscle Shoals Sound,” is responsible for arguably the most important songs in the history of the Muscle Shoals genre. At his Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, he manned the helm of the soundboard and produced smash hits from some of the biggest legends in music: Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke, Paul Anka, and The Allman Brothers, to name a few.
The book tells perhaps the greatest story in modern music history. The magic that came out of Muscle Shoals studio was unprecedented and bold: African-American and Caucasian music merging together in the ’60s in the heart of the south when segregation was at its peak. This memoir should be on your list of books to read before you die.
And it was one of the greatest accomplishments of my career to interview Rick. Here is what we discussed:
What made you decide that now was the best time to write a book and tell your story?
Actually, I have been working on the book for 10 years [laughs]. It took me 10 years to write it. It started off as a daily diary. So I kept writing this and writing that note and other notes here and there about artists like Wilson Pickett, and so on — Aretha Franklin and Mack Davis and Paul Anka, and so forth. Then someone suggested to me, “You should write a book. You have all these experiences with these artists and produced a lot of songs and most of them became no. 1 records, and you should write a book about them.” And I said, “Well, I think I will do that.”
What was your music background prior to the brilliance you bestowed at Fame Records?
That is a great question. I was always a musician. My father was a southern gospel singer. He sang in quartets, and he taught Sunday school — singing school when the crops where all laid by. Now I don’t know if you are familiar with the term “laid by,” but laid by means when you get in work for the last time and you are waiting for the crops to grow into corn, cotton etc. And so during that spell, between laying by time and picking cotton time and corn and all of that, there was about three or four months that went by and we had fairly little to do, so he (my father) would always organize singing school class at the local church. Me and my sister, he taught us how to sing gospel songs we knew — all the he old-fashioned southern gospel songs.
Do you believe that God had a hand in blessing Muscle Shoals Alabama with musical greatness?
I think He must have. I think He did for me. I started the business in Muscle Shoals and had the first hit record here, and then the second one, the third one, and the fourth on and so on. Of course, I was a country music fan and I played the Red Foleys and Webb Pierce, Faron Young and all of that stuff, so I was a big fan of that music, and we had a radio station program everyday 30 minutes a day in Hamilton, Alabama, and we would get on that and play dances. And, yes, to answer your question, God is responsible for me being here and no other reason. And I have always tried to do His will and be His man.
Are you still involved with the development of current artists?
Oh yeah, we are open every day from 9-6, and we are the oldest recording studio in the world owned by the same group of people, and that is my family. We own the Fame Recording Studios, and that is where all my hit records have been recorded, and I would never not be involved with that. It is truly a part of me.
Could you discuss what it was like recording with African-American artists in the 1960s in Alabama when segregation was at its height in our country?
Tough times, very tough times. We were frowned on by the community, and we were frowned on at places where we would go to eat at one or two in the morning. People would give us those looks, like what are you all doing here. It was tough, but we were recording Wilson Pickett’s “Land of 1,000” dances or “Mustang Sally” maybe, the night that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot in Memphis and killed. So we were there during all the ’60s and, of course, we were color blind. We just loved music and loved all kinds of music. And most people we worked with had gospel backgrounds, and they sang in church. I know Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett, and Aretha Franklin did.