Tributes have been paid to Rick Hall, the songwriter and record producer known as the “Father of Muscle Shoals Music,” who died January 2nd. The 85-year-old passed away at his home in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, after a protracted illness. 

Through FAME, his publishing company and studio, Hall made Muscle Shoals synonymous with a stew of soul, R&B and country that often featured sparkling, ultra-live sounds and a rep for dazzling performances from singers and instrumentalists. Roy Orbison’s recording of “Sweet and Innocent,” which Hall had co-written with Billy Sherrill, had led to the pair forming the publishing company Florence Alabama Music Enterprises (FAME) and setting up their own studio.

Hall went on to produce some of the most indelible soul and R&B recordings of the 20th century: Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” Etta James' cover of “Tell Mama” (the original version of which was also recorded at FAME), Otis Redding's “You Left the Water Running” and Wilson Pickett's cover of “Mustang Sally” among them. The studio was also known for its original house band, known as The Swampers (as referenced in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”).

Gibson album montage

A young Duane Allman, co-founder of The Allman Brothers, famously camped out near Hall’s FAME studio in the hopes of catching a break — which he did when Hall put him on Wilson Pickett's album Hey Jude, which drew international attention for Allman. Duane built his stellar reputation before the Allman Bros through his recordings at FAME, which also included his staggering playing on Aretha Franklin’s version of “The Weight.” Indeed, the connection between Hall’s studio and the Allman clan was strong – Gregg Allman chose FAME to record his final record, 2017’s outstanding Southern Blood.

Hall published his memoir, The Man from Muscle Shoals: My Journey from Shame to Fame, in 2015.

Country rocker Jason Isbell, whose The Nashville Sound was one of the most celebrated albums of 2017, paid tribute and cited Hall as helping to pave his way to a music career: “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.”