The acronym is F-A-M-E, but it may as well be S-O-U-L.
It was a full half-century ago that the recording studio, record label and publishing operation originally known as Florence Alabama Music Enterprises established itself and its trademark sound with the hit recording of ‘You Better Move On’ by Arthur Alexander. In the fifty years since, FAME Studios and its idiosyncratic founder Rick Hall have been at the forefront of the Muscle Shoals Sound. FAME begat the process whereby a little known Alabama backwater would evolve into the very crucible of southern soul, a holy place to where musicians, singers and fans still make a very specific pilgrimage in the hope of experiencing a little bit of the magic behind so many hit records: ‘I’m Your Puppet’, ‘Land Of 1,000 Dances’, ‘Tell Mama’ and countless others.
Rick Hall is now a grand old man of the music business, but back in the 60s he was more akin to an enfant terrible, with an unbending will that helped him make it against almost insurmountable odds, matched by an attention to detail that bordered on obsession. There have only ever been a handful of truly self-sufficient producer/engineers in the history of popular music, and Hall is pre-eminent amongst them. Atlantic, Chess and so many other legendary labels flocked to FAME to avail themselves of the sound, the players, the material, and most importantly the vibe that Rick Hall had created.
The FAME Studios Story 1961-1973 is an exhaustive three CD set derived from two years’ worth of excavations by the intrepid Ace team at the hallowed FAME vault. The result is a full programme of FAME-related releases slated for issue on Ace, Kent, and BGP over the next couple of years, but the lynchpin is this definitive anthology that focuses upon the halcyon days of the studio and the label. It’s an open-minded, celebratory overview that, across 75 tracks, spotlights both artists and records that are either acknowledged greats, or lesser known – yet no less worthy – entries in the lexicon of soul.
The line-up is a virtual Who’s Who of 60s soul, and includes Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Arthur Conley, Irma Thomas, Joe Tex, Joe Simon, Lou Rawls, Spencer Wiggins and Otis Clay. Deep soul fans will recognise names such as The Blues Busters, Billy Young, Maurice & Mac, Willie Hightower, Bettye Swann, James Govan and many, many others. Special attention is paid to those acts closely associated with the Fame label - Candi Staton, Jimmy Hughes and Clarence Carter - as well as its inestimable stable of writers, producers and players, including Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, George Jackson and the Fame Gang. And the programme also includes several of the notable pop hits recorded at the studio by the Osmonds, Tommy Roe and Bobbie Gentry, as well as more obscure recordings by the Del Rays, Mark V and Terry & The Chain Reaction.
With unprecedented access granted to its tape and photo archive, well over a third of the contents of The FAME Studio Story 1961-1973 are new to CD, and of those, over a dozen tracks are fully unissued – including previously unheard rarities by Otis Redding and Arthur Alexander. The heavily-illustrated package with an 84 page book comes laden with two informative essays and extensive track notes, all of which are based upon fresh interviews with many of the principals involved.
If you know anything about soul music, you know FAME, which is why The FAME Studio Story 1961-1973 is an essential purchase.
By Alec Palao
The FAME STUDIOS STORY was mastered by Nick Robbins at Sound Mastering Ltd