FAME owner leaves behind musical legacy

Graduate student Taylor Goodwin observes the portrait of former FAME Recording Studio owner and producer Rick Hall at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Hall died Jan. 2 at the age of 85, leaving behind a musicallegacy in the Shoals.

Many people in the Shoals are familiar with FAME Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals, where several well-known musicians have recorded hits throughout the years.

However, as there is a voice with every song, there was a man behind the studio’s success.

FAME owner and producer Rick Hall died Jan. 2 at the age of 85, leaving behind a musical history in both the studio and the Shoals.

“He was truly a music legend and one of Alabama’s stars,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey on Twitter. “He will surely be missed.”

While Hall was only nominated for one Grammy in his lifetime, he was awarded the Grammy Trustees Award in 2014 for his recording contributions.

He became an Alabama Music Hall of Fame inductee in 1985. In 2016, UNA awarded him an honorary doctorate.

Hall was born in Forest Grove, Mississippi, in 1932. Before quitting high school, Hall discovered his love for music playing in a string band. After serving in the Korean War, he moved to Alabama, where he continued his band career with different groups.

After famous singers, including Roy Orbison and George Jones, began playing Hall and fellow musician Billy Sherrill’s songs, the duo decided to partner with local music enthusiast Tom Stafford to start a music publishing company in Florence.  

Following Sherrill and Stafford’s leave, Hall moved the company to a warehouse on Wilson Dam Road in Muscle Shoals.

From here, Hall worked with several known and unknown artists, including Muscle Shoals group Shenandoah, which became one of the most successful 1980s country bands, and soul singer Aretha Franklin, whose first production at FAME won a Grammy for Album of the Year.

“Nobody in the industry ever worked harder than Rick,” said singer Jason Isbell on Twitter. “American music wouldn’t be the same without his contributions.”

Throughout his career, Hall’s productions included country, soul and pop. Even going into the 21st century, FAME continued to attract more singers, including Carrie Underwood and Tim McGraw.

“Rick’s DNA is in every hit song, lick, record and artist from Muscle Shoals,” said Walt Aldridge, visiting associate professor in the department of entertainment industry. “He may not have worked directly with them all, but you can bet he taught someone who did or that they were influenced by something in his long body of work.”

Aldridge, who has worked at FAME as a songwriter, producer and musician, said he began working at the studio as an intern from UNA, and Hall helped him move forward into the music industry.

“Rick encouraged me to do everything I got an opportunity to do in the music industry and learn as much as possible about it all,” he said. “It was great advice that served me well over the next 40 years.”

Sophomore Tommy Brown said Hall is one of the reasons he interns at FAME.

“I knew the story about the music,” he said. “Typically, people move up to Nashville or haul it on out to LA. I came to Muscle Shoals, because I knew what happened here and I wanted to be a part of it.”

Aldridge said Hall’s legacy will continue through other artists.

“I have no doubt that his influence will be heard for decades to come in music made by people who never had the pleasure of knowing or working with him,” he said. “He has touched a lot of lives and is far from being done.”

Brown said Hall’s legacy gives him confidence that he can make it in the music industry.

“Rick had a past unlike anything I (have) had to deal with, and, if he could make it out of that and become a noteworthy figure, then who’s to say I couldn’t if I put in the work?” he said.