Rick Hall, a songwriter and record producer known as the “Father of Muscle Shoals Music,” died today at his home in Muscle Shoals, Ala. after a protracted illness. The news was first reported by the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, and later confirmed by Judy Hood, chairperson for the Muscle Shoals Music Association and wife of David Hood, a bassist who had worked alongside Hall for decades. He was 85.
Through FAME, his publishing company and studio, Hall made Muscle Shoals synonymous with a sound of soul, R&B and country that often featured sparkling, ultra-live percussive sounds and vocal performances that seem simultaneously removed and intimate.
Hall was born in Mississippi and raised in Franklin County, Ala., just adjacent to Colbert County, where Muscle Shoals is located.. Hall cited a tough upbringing as focusing him and leading to his eventual success. As he told No Depression:
“My father was a sawmiller; he made 35 cents an hour, which was 10 cents more than anybody else did, because he was so good at what he did and a hard worker. My mother left my father when I was five and my sister was four, and she went to live with my aunt and became a matron in a brothel. My father wound up raising my sister and me. That was all shameful to me. We had no shoes to wear to school, and my father cut my hair, which meant he pulled out chunks of it with rough scissors. I carried that shame throughout my life; it turned me into a rascal of sorts, and I became very hardened and determined. My determination made me a tough businessman and I was very hard to say no to. All of this helped me become a great record producer. I’m the guy who started the Muscle Shoals music industry; everybody in Muscle Shoals is a spinoff of Rick Hall.”
Hall cited Sun Records’ co-founder Sam Phillips — responsible for first recording Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Roy Orbison and many others — as an early mentor. “[Philips] was a terribly big influence on me,” he told the Country Music Hall of Fame. “All the things that Sam did, I wanted to be like him.” The pair, two white record producers from the south, would each have a deep impact on the history of African-American music of the twentieth century.