Music Producer And Songwriter Rick Hall Dies At 85

Jan 3, 2018
Originally published on January 3, 2018 7:11 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

You may not know him by name, but you know his sound.

(SOUNDBITE OF WILSON PICKETT SONG, "MUSTANG SALLY")

MARTIN: Music producer and songwriter Rick Hall, the so-called father of Muscle Shoals music, has died. Hall was the founder of FAME Recording Studios, the place that made Muscle Shoals, Ala., synonymous with the Southern sound of soul and R&B.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Just listen to this, Wilson Pickett's version of "Mustang Sally."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MUSTANG SALLY")

WILSON PICKETT: (Singing) Listen. All you want to do is ride around, Sally.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Ride, Sally, ride.

CHANG: There at his small FAME Studios, Rick Hall cut some of the biggest records, like Aretha Franklin's first hit. In an interview from 2015, Hall told NPR's Linda Wertheimer that before she came to Muscle Shoals and found her voice, Aretha Franklin's music wasn't selling.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

RICK HALL: It was a little bit too vanilla, and was 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.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, BYLINE: You don't write it down?

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

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I NEVER LOVED A MAN (THE WAY I LOVE YOU)")

ARETHA FRANKLIN: (Singing) I ain't never, no, no...

MARTIN: Here's what Aretha Franklin had to say in the 2013 documentary "Muscle Shoals."

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "MUSCLE SHOALS")

FRANKLIN: Coming to Muscle Shoals was the turning point. That's where I recorded "I Never Loved a Man," which became my first million-selling record. So absolutely it was a milestone and the turning point in my career.

MARTIN: Rick Hall, a white producer, worked with African-American musicians at a time when Alabama was segregated.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

HALL: During the '60s we had it tough here because we wanted to produce black music, black - with black artists singing. In doing that we were afraid of white people that didn't like the idea of us recording black singers.

MARTIN: But in Rick Hall's FAME Studio there was no color line. Hall worked with Etta James and Otis Redding.

CHANG: And that Muscle Shoals sound traveled far and wide. He eventually worked with the Rolling Stones. Here's Keith Richards from the documentary "Muscle Shoals."

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "MUSCLE SHOALS")

KEITH RICHARDS: Record making like that, it doesn't happen very often. There's usually somebody like Rick Hall who's like a total maniac (laughter) with the drive and the foresight to do it. He's a tough guy.

CHANG: Hall was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1985, and in 2014 he received a Grammy Trustees Award for his significant contribution to the field of recording.

MARTIN: In an interview on "Larry King Now," Larry King asks Rick Hall, what makes a good producer?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LARRY KING NOW")

HALL: A good producer? A guy who knows a hit song when he hears it. It takes a tough guy. And you have to be able to take a lot of B.S.

MARTIN: Rick Hall died at his home in Muscle Shoals, Ala. He was 85 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOU LEFT THE WATER RUNNING")

OTIS REDDING: (Singing) You left all the water running when you left me behind. Let me tell you that you left all that water running. It's running from these eyes of mine. And there you go. You locked the door and left me outside, and then you threw the key away. Baby, one day you'll regret, baby, you'll be upset when you get your... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.