June 1, 2011


Muscle Shoals - The legendary studio where soul was born: Fifty years ago, in the poverty-struck deep South, Rick Hall created a sound that defined Aretha, Etta, the Stones and more. (John Clarke, 27 May 2011, Independent)

Soul singer Wilson Pickett was at the height of his fame in the mid-1960s when Jerry Wexler, a partner of the New York-based Atlantic Records, sent him to record at a studio he'd recently discovered. The studio wasn't in New York or Chicago or Philadelphia, or indeed in any major conurbation. It was 780 miles away in the middle of nowhere in Alabama, a state where, up to 1955, black people couldn't even use the same bus as white folks, on land that didn't exist until a dam in the 1920s turned the then dangerous Muscle Shoals into dry land.

Pickett told reporter Mark Jacobson: "I looked out the plane window and there's these people picking cotton... This big Southern guy was at the airport. I said, 'I don't want to get off here, they still got black people picking cotton'. The man looked at me and said: 'Fuck that. Come on, Pickett, let's go make some hit records.'"

And they did. Within days Pickett had recorded "Land Of a Thousand Dances", one of his biggest hits, in the studio created, controlled and inspired by Rick Hall the "big Southern guy" who remains one of America's undiscovered musical heroes. "A po' boy from the bottom of the agrarian ladder", as Wexler described him, he managed to found a recording centre that was to cater for everybody from Aretha Franklin to The Osmonds, from Bob Dylan to Paul Simon and from Etta James to the Rolling Stones.

Hall was born in 1932, in rural poverty in Freedom Hills, 40 miles away from Muscle Shoals, to a father who worked in a sawmill and a mother who left home when he was five. He dabbled in country music and lost his first wife in 1957 when she died in a car crash 18 months after they married. Two weeks later, his father died when his tractor overturned. He found solace in music.

"He has a titanic love of music," says Dean Rudland, of London-based Ace Records, which is planning a massive reissue programme of material recorded by Hall. "When you look at this place, there was one road going in and one road coming out. That it became a major recording centre was all down to him."

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Posted by at June 1, 2011 6:00 AM

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