The best way to appreciate the genius of Alabama Music Hall of Famer Rick Hall is to enjoy the sounds he created with some of the globe’s best artists.
Perfect example: Aretha Franklin, who sang this at Hall’s Muscle Shoals studio in 1967:
“You’re a no good heartbreaker
“You’re a liar and you’re a cheat
“And I don’t know why
“I let you do these things to me.”
Franklin’s single “I Never Loved a Man” — which opened with those lines — shot to No. 1 on the R&B charts that year and catapulted the soul singer to her own hall of fame career. It also is one of the countless soul, country and pop recordings Hall shepherded at his studio for nearly 50 years.
Hall died this week from cancer. He was 85. And it’s safe to say that of the more than 70 inductees in the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Hall — who was inducted in 1985 — affected more artists, propelled more careers, wrote more songs and influenced the soundtrack of Americans’ lives as much, if not more, as anyone else in our state’s history.
In addition to Franklin, consider this abbreviated roster of talent who recorded at Hall’s Fame Studios or recorded Hall-written songs: the Rolling Stones, Alicia Keys, Otis Redding, Jason Isbell, Percy Sledge, Rod Stewart, the Drive-by Truckers, Brenda Lee, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, George Jones, Solomon Burke, Duane Allman, Roy Orbison, Etta James and the Osmonds.
Hall and the session musicians he employed became the go-to studio spot for musicians willing (or wanting) to record in a quieter, more relaxed atmosphere than the hustle of New York City, Los Angeles, Memphis and the like.
What’s more, Hall’s embrace of black artists during the tumult of the civil rights movement earned him their trust and brought his studio an endless supply of musical talent to record. In his autobiography, My Journey from Shame to Fame, Hall wrote of the role black music during the 1950s and 1960s “opened his eyes” to a genre that proved instrumental to his career.
“He flaunted the widespread segregation policies in place, often eating in local restaurants with clients such as Redding in a state where Gov. George Wallace had been stumping for ‘segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,’” The Los Angeles Times wrote this week. In a 2015 interview with The New York Times, Hall said, “(Wilson) Pickett was reluctant to come to Alabama, but when he met me and saw who I was and what I was, he changed his mind. We were trying our best to do what we had to do to prove ourselves to black people.”
If the world wants to know about Alabama — a state seldom publicized for anything but college football and embarrassing politics — the late Rick Hall and his legacy are worthy models to uphold.