The Sound of the Shoals - Part 3 - The Birth of Rock and Roll and Rhythm and Blues

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The Sound of the Shoals - Part 3 - The Birth of Rock and Roll and Rhythm and Blues
Part Three of our series that explains why Muscle Shoals, Alabama is considered the "Hit Recording Capital of the World."

The next generation of Shoals area music began when the legendary Sam Phillips began working as a broadcast engineer at WLAY radio in Muscle Shoals. He eventually relocated to Memphis, and on July 5, 1954, Phillips discovered a talent that could only be explained as "a white man who could sing with a black man's soul." Elvis Presley auditioned for Sam Phillips one day while working in his Sun Records studio in Memphis. He quickly signed Presley with his record label, and introduced the world to the man who would one day be known as the "King of Rock and Roll." With Elvis Presley's new found fame at Sun Records, Phillips was able to bring in more talented musicians. Sam Phillips went on to discover other legendary artists, such as Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Charlie Rich. Sam's keen eye for potential and raw talent allowed him to forever shape the history of music as we now it today.

Rick Hall was listening when the song "A Fallen Star" became a regional hit in 1957. The song, written by James Joiner and sung by Bobby Denton (who is currently the Alabama State Senate's longest serving member), helped Hall to decide to make the short move from Hamilton, Alabama, in search of a job with Joiner. Rick Hall later formed the group the Fairlanes with his friend, Billy Sherrill and performed at many venues throughout the Shoals. In 1958, the two partnered with Tom Stafford who owned SPAR recording to form a recording team with which they could now work freely. This studio, known as Florence Alabama Music Enterprises, or Fame, seemed to be doomed to destruction from the beginning. They set up shop in a small room above a drugstore. They stapled egg cartons to the walls of their studio for sound proofing, found old carpet for the floors, and used drapes for decoration. Hall said:

"I moved in, I slept there, ate in restaurants, I began to write songs, bring in
the troops, would be songwriters... anybody that thought about music. I
brought them in and signed them up playing the guitar, sat up all night with
them to write songs and try to put them together."

It seemed that everywhere they turned there were conflicts in personality. The men at Fame recorded demos for bands looking to get into the music scene of Nashville or Memphis. Hall's obsession to succeed many times collided with Stafford's visionary ideas. The recording alliance crumbled at their feet and Hall was left as the sole proprietor of Fame. Linda Hall, Rick's wife recalled:


"Sherrill went to Nashville to work for Sam Phillips. He sold Rick the
name of Fame and the publishing company for a dollar."

Left alone to pick up the pieces of his broken friendship and his shattered publishing company, Rick was still determined to succeed in the music industry. "I couldn't get anything going in Nashville. It left me no alternative but to try to get something going in Muscle Shoals." He was determined to prove that Muscle Shoals could have a thriving recording industry.

Hall rented a small tobacco barn on Wilson Dam Highway and in 1961 he made his first hit on his own, "You Better Move On," sung by Arthur Alexander, a local bellhop. This was the very first rhythm and blues song recorded in the Shoals area. It was also the first hit recorded by Hall's newly formed rhythm section comprising of David Briggs, Terry Thompson, Jerry Carrigan, and Norbert Putnam. The future of the Muscle Shoals music scene seemed very promising. After seeing the future that was waiting for them in the music industry, Hall's house band eventually left Muscle Shoals to pursue new opportunities for them in Nashville. They were replaced by Jimmy Johnson, Spooner Oldham, Albert Lowe, and Roger Hawkins as resident musicians at Fame.

Tune in to our next entry to find out how a hospital orderly records one of the most beloved songs of all time in Muscle Shoals, and how a session band who forms their own studio could help solidify what exactly is the sound of Muscle Shoals.

The Sound of the Shoals - Part 3 - The Birth of Rock and Roll and Rhythm and Blues
Joshua B. Pettus

Home Grown Real Estate

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