Interview: FAME Studios’ Rodney Hall on Father’s Day and Upcoming New Album “Muscle Shoals: Small Town, Big Sound”

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When Americana Highways caught up with Rodney Hall, it was the day after Father’s Day.   Hall’s father was Rick Hall, celebrated founder of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, who passed away last January after a half century of making hit records — groundbreaking hit records. In light of Father’s Day, Rick Hall’s legacy seemed the logical place to start.   “I talk about him every day,” Rodney Hall said. “We have so much still going on that he put in motion. He had passion. My Dad just kept his head down all his life and kept doing what he loved. And we’re continuing that tradition.”

Rodney Hall has two brothers, and all three boys grew up in and around their father’s studio. They played and watched while locals like Arthur Alexander and Percy Sledge became greats, and while greats like Aretha Franklin and Tom Jones would come into town. You’d wonder what that was like as a kid. Hall said: “It was just my Dad’s work, you know? The space was really cool, and at that time he had all these baffles that were on wheels that they’d roll around. Some of them had windows and some of them had doors, and we would make forts out of them, so that was cool. But we always knew not to touch the mics. (laughs). The idea was, and still is, that we can change the sizes of the booths and put the baffles in front of different instruments. We still have a couple of the original ones. We might rebuild them, and we still use baffles, although there are not very many of the original ones left.”

Knowing that Hall has a teenage son of his own, I asked him whether his son had grown up in an echo of his own childhood experiences, since he grew up in the same place, playing around the studio. “The biggest difference is that when I was 10, 11, 12, I knew my dad had a cool job and I knew he was doing music and I always thought that was awesome, but, he had just started getting some accolades at that point, Grammy nominations and that kind of stuff. Growing up as a kid we really didn’t know any different other than that was my Dad’s work. Our friends didn’t know anything different either, although some of my teachers might want to meet Mac Davis or whoever was coming in to record. For kids at that time, Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin were just not on their radar.”

“But when my son was growing up, pretty much for his whole lifetime, my Dad was getting lifetime achievement awards and big time things it was impossible for him to not realize how big FAME Studios had gotten. We were at the Sundance festival for the documentary release about the studio a couple years ago. When my brothers and I were growing up we didn’t realize how large what was going on was.”

“We knew my Dad was successful but we didn’t know the scale, that it was international, the degree of success of the records, and that what had happened here in the 1960s with African American artists would become so notable.   Nobody was going around talking about what the civil rights ramifications of the music that was being made here was. At the time they were just making the best records they could make. Just making records they loved. And they spent a lot of time making those records and making sure every aspect of it was as good as it could be.”

But now the significance of Rick Hall and FAME Studios is clear. And to honor some of the quality historical productions of the studio, some reminiscence and acknowledgement is taking place. Coming up in the fall, FAME Studios is going to release an album that pays tribute to the legacy Rick Hall anchored there in the unlikely small town of Muscle Shoals, with great contemporary musicians carrying it forward. The album, according to Rodney, is something that has been in the works and has been being discussed for a couple of decades, and has been being conceptualized in earnest for at least 5 years, and, Hall says.  It will be titled: Muscle Shoals, Small Town Big Sound, and is in its final stages at the time of this writing.

The compilation features many people who have recorded hits at FAME studios over the years, covering hit songs from generations earlier. You’ll find artists like Chris Stapleton, Alan Black, Alicia Keyes, Lee Ann Womack, Willie Nelson, Steven Tyler, Demi Lovato, Vince Gill, Kep Mo, Kid Rock, and even Candi Staton (now 78), who first met Rick Hall in 1968. Rodney Hall remarked: “So this is about more than 50 years. We’ve got 25 artists in all, we’ve recorded 18 songs. It’s really exciting.” The effort was primarily co-produced by Rodney Hall and Keith Stegall (George Jones, Alan Jackson, Randy Travis) but is a truly collaborative effort by the community and features over 100 local people from the music business lending a hand.

“We are mixing and mastering it right now, we’re also the record label for it, and so we coordinate publicity, album art, credits, thank yous, etc.”

The release date is going to be September 28th.  At Americana Highways, we have reserved the second half of this interview to share in a few weeks, closer to the release date of this tribute album in September.   Keep current on the project, here.

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