'The Man From Muscle Shoals' On Shame And FAME Producer and FAME Studios founder Rick Hall discusses growing up poor in rural Alabama and crafting the unmistakable Muscle Shoals sound.

'The Man From Muscle Shoals' On Shame And FAME

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Now, you may not recognize the name Rick Hall. There are lots of Rick Halls around, but I bet you know this man's sound - the Muscle Shoals sound.


WILSON PICKETT: (Singing) Mustang Sally, guess you'd better slow your Mustang down.


ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing) You're a no good heartbreaker. You're a liar and you're a cheat. And I don't know why I let you do these things to me.


THE OSMONDS: (Singing) One bad apple don't spoil the whole bunch, girl. Give it one more try before you give up on love.


ETTA JAMES: (Singing) Now you find that you've been misused. Talk to me. I'll do what you choose. I want you to tell mama all about it.

WERTHEIMER: So there was Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, The Osmonds, Etta James - just a few of the many artists who came to Muscle Shoals, which is a rural town in northern Alabama, to record at Fame Studios. And it was the place where producer Rick Hall worked his magic to create a signature southern sound and launch a string of hits, which date back to the 1960s. Rick Hall has just released his memoir, "The Man From Muscle Shoals: My Journey From Shame To Fame." And he joins us now from Big River Broadcasting in Florence, Ala. Mr. Hall, welcome.

RICK HALL: Thank you very much. I'm glad to be here.

WERTHEIMER: Now, you grew up poor in the rural South. Was it that period of your life where the shame in the title of your book comes from?

HALL: Yes. I grew the northwestern section of Alabama, but I was very poor. My mother left me and my sister with my dad to raise when I was about 5 years old, and went to work in a red light district. So that was shameful. We slept in squalor conditions with bed bugs eating us up every night, and the whole thing. So we were very, very, very poor. And it had a lot to do with the kind of music I'm producing today.

WERTHEIMER: Do you remember the first time that you really - that music just really clicked with you - that something - you heard something and it meant something to you?

HALL: Yes, well, since I was 5 years old my dad was a Sunday singing school teacher. And he taught the basics for country gospel music. That was what he grew up on, and he loved it. So consequently he taught me and my sisters to sing harmonies together, and so that's why I got into it (laughter).

WERTHEIMER: The Fame Studios - that was a place where black people and white people worked together, and at that time, things in the South were very difficult. And you didn't seem to - it didn't seem to stand in your way of having these relationships and - these working relationships.

HALL: Yes, ma'am. That's was a - during the '60s. We had it tough here because we wanted to produce black music with black artists singing, In doing that we were afraid of white people that didn't like the idea of us recording black singers and so forth.

WERTHEIMER: Tell me about Aretha Franklin. I saw a quote from her that said that Fame Studio was a real turning point for her in her career.

HALL: Jerry Wexler and I produced the first hit record on her ever to be, and it was called "I Ain't Ever Loved A Man The Way I Love You" and the B-side was "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man." And they both went to number one. It was a two-sided smash, so we bailed them out (laughter).


FRANKLIN: (Singing) If you want a do right all days woman, you got to be a do right all night man. You got to be a do right all night man.

HALL: I had known about her through her father, who was Reverend Franklin from Detroit, Mich. So we'd listen to him preach 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning when we were driving him back home from a gig. And so we knew about her, but we didn't know what was wrong. We just knew that we didn't like her music, and it was a little bit too vanilla and too many ditties. And it was little jazz-oriented records with written arrangements, and we don't do that in Muscle Shoals. We don't use arrangers in Muscle Shoals.

WERTHEIMER: You don't write it down.

HALL: No, ma'am. We do it from the heart (laughter).

WERTHEIMER: So if you think back to somebody like - Wilson Pickett recorded music that was the hits of his life at Muscle Shoals. So what do you think? Is there some, you know, phrase, song, part of a song, that you shaped, a song that otherwise would not have worked and you made it work?

HALL: Yes, there was a song that I think kind of changed his career, and it was called "Hey Jude."

WERTHEIMER: That's a Beatles song, right?

HALL: Yes, it was a Beatles song, and we covered it.


PICKETT: (Singing) Hey Jude, don't make it bad. Take a sad song and make it better.

HALL: Pickett always said to me - I said what are you saying, Pickett? Are you saying hey Jude or are you saying hey Jew?

WERTHEIMER: (Laughter) You're kidding.

HALL: And he said well, I'm saying - he said no. He said no, I'm singing hey Jew. Isn't that what is it? And I said absolutely not. I mean, it's hey Jude - J U D E.


PICKETT: (Singing) Hey Jude, don't let me down. You found her. Now go on out and get her.

HALL: Went home and it was his idea to cut that song. And of course, he played the music on that record, and of course, southern rock became into being during that session.

WERTHEIMER: Rick Hall is the founder of Fame Studios. He's written in new memoir. It's called "The Man From Muscle Shoals: My Journey From Shame To Fame." Thank you very much.

HALL: Thank you, ma'am. I appreciate it very much.


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