Rick Hall, Founder of FAME Recording Studios, Dead at 85

Rick Hall, one of the most influential figures in rock, pop, soul and country music of the past 50 years, died Tuesday (Jan. 2) at his home in Muscle Shoals, AL, following a long illness.

According to local sources, Hall, 85, had returned from a nursing home to spend the holidays with family.

“Rick Hall and his family gave me my first job in the music business,” said Jason Isbell on Twitter, “and nobody in the industry ever worked harder than Rick. Nobody. American music wouldn’t be the same without his contributions. His death is a huge loss to those of us who knew him and those who didn’t.”

Added award-winning instrumentalist and songwriter, Mac McAnally, also on Twitter, “The music world changed today with the passing of the great Rick Hall. Rick was The Godfather of Muscle Shoals Music. I am blessed to have learned at his feet and happy we have so much fine work to remember him by. Godspeed my friend!”

Roe Erister Hall was born into a family of sharecroppers in Tishomingo County, MS on Jan. 31, 1932. In spite of an early interest in music, Hall, who grew up in Alabama, initially made his living as a factory worker. He served in the Korean War as a conscientious objector, playing in an Army band that included future Country Music Hall of Fame member, Faron Young, and the noted fiddler, Gordon Terry.

Following his return from service, he played in various local bands, including the Country Pals and an R&B group called the Fairlanes. Billy Sherrill, who would later become famous as a producer and songwriter for Tammy Wynette and George Jones was the Fairlanes’ saxophonist.

Hall established the FAME recording studio in Muscle Shoals, AL in 1960. The name derived from an earlier business venture — Florence Alabama Music Enterprises — Hall had undertaken with Sherrill and studio owner Tom Stafford. FAME’s first hit record was Arthur Alexander’s “You’d Better Move On,” which went to No. 24 on the pop charts in 1962 and brought Hall his first national prominence.

During the ensuing years, Hall turned out hits for Tommy Roe, the Tams, Joe Tex and Jimmy Hughes. Then, in 1966, he assisted in licensing Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” to Atlantic Records. The song went to No. 1 on both the pop and R&B rankings and led Atlantic to send many of its artists — including Aretha Franklin and Clarence Carter — to Muscle Shoals for Hall’s particular brand on magic.

House Of Fame LLC/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Many of the greatest session musicians of the 1960s and ’70s worked under Hall’s direction at FAME, including David Briggs, Norbert Putnam, Jerry Carrigan, Donnie Fritts, Jimmy Johnson, Spooner Oldham, David Hood, Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins and Duane Allman.

House Of Fame LLC/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hall’s label, FAME Records, released projects on Candi Staton, Clarence Carter and Arthur Conley that were distributed by Capitol.

House Of Fame LLC/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

Although identified early with soul and R&B artists, Hall produced acts across the entire pop and country spectrum, among them Tom Jones, Paul Anka, the Osmonds, Mac Davis, the Gatlin brothers, Bobby Gentry and Jerry Reed. He was also instrumental in packaging and taking the group Shenandoah to the top of the country charts in the 1980s.

Staff writers for Hall’s FAME publishing company penned hits songs for Alabama, Earl Thomas Conley, Ronnie Milsap, John Michael Montgomery, Jerry Reed, Jason Aldean and the Dixie Chicks. The company’s catalog also boasts the Grammy-winning country and pop megahit “I Swear.”

Hall was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1985 and presented the Grammy Trustees Award for his contributions to the field of recording.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.