Alabama record producer Rick Hall, who recorded some of the biggest musical acts of the 1960s and 70s and helped develop the fabled ‘Muscle Shoals Sound’, died on Tuesday January 2 at the age of 85 following a fight with cancer. Longtime friend Judy Hood, partner of Swampers’ bassist David Hood, reported Hall’s passing.
Hall, a native of Mississippi, received a trustees award from the Grammy awards in 2014, and he is a member of the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Hall received the Producer of The Year Grammy in 1974.
Hall founded Fame Recording Studios in north-western Alabama in 1959 and went on to record major acts including R&B stars Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, as well as Arthur Alexander, Jimmy Hughes, Etta James, Clarence Carter and Otis Redding. Hall also recorded country artists including George Jones, Mac Davis, Jerry Reed, Ronnie Milsap and Brenda Lee and produced pop acts including Paul Anka, the Osmonds and Tom Jones.
FAME’s first house rhythm section included Norbert Putnam, David Briggs, Peanut Montgomery and Jerry Carrigan, while its second house rhythm section, memorialised as the ‘Swampers’ in Lynyrd Skynrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ left in 1969 to form their own studio, Muscle Shoals Sound.
The 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals, which tells the story of Hall, the region’s musicians and their distinctive, soulful sound featuring heavy bass, guitar and electronic organ or piano, brought new found kudos to Hall and his team. In 2015, he released the book The Man From Muscle Shoals: My Journey From Shame To Fame.
“I can’t possibly tell you how this affects me,” GRAMMY winner John Paul White said regarding Hall’s passing. “This is the architect of the sound that made me the artist and writer I am today.”
Performers have paid tribute to Hall, including Jason Isbell who tweeted, “Rick Hall and his family gave me my first job in the music business, 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.”