FAME Recording Studio
By Song River
(Coming up in Vents Magazine)
Song River: I know the goal is to have people purchase and read your book, so it is important not to give too much away. However, I'd like to build an opening to your beginning. Lets talk about your early years, childhood and the influences that took place in your life.
Rick Hall: I grew up actually in the area known as, Freedom Hills. It is in the northwest corner of north Alabama and my father was a saw mill worker, and cut timber for a living. He was a poor man, and my mother had left us when I was about five years old, and I had a sister that was four years old. My mother left us and went to work in a, “Red Light District,” that's the shameful part of the book.
We were poverty-stricken, as daddy couldn't find other work, he had to work in the saw mill and he cooked for us, washed our clothes, got us to school, had to be there when we got home, so he couldn't get a good paying job. So, he had to work at the saw mill or sell whiskey.
Living in Freedom Hills, the word “Freedom” was taken literally throughout the area, because either you couldn’t find work or you were running from the law. I spent my early life there, and my sister and I well... when ever you saw one of us, you saw both of us. We stayed close together. Growing up living in a little saw mill shack with dirt floors, we never wore shoes. We had a cook stove, a two person bed, and we all slept in the same bed. We had chiggers, you call them bed bugs and they would eat you up at night. We hadn’t any bathroom facilities or windows in the house. It was built out of scrap lumber.
SR: You did what you had to do it sounds like to survive and your dad had to the dual parent role to play. What was it Rick that happened to your momma, and why was she no longer in the picture?
RH: I had an older brother, who was born a year before me. I had thought my mom and dad had split because my dad was away working in the saw mill, but my sister, brother and me, along with a couple of cousins were playing around the area where my mother was washing our clothes. And my older brother and one of the other girls were both pulling on the opposite ends of a stick, and the girl turned loose of her end, and when she did he fell back into the wash-pot full of boiling water. My mom went running through the fields screaming for my dad and he didn’t know it, so he came home later and they took my older brother to a doctor in Red Bay, Alabama. When the doctor pulled his clothes off, all of his skin came off with his clothing, so he died of blood poisoning about three or four days later. So, I guess I always figured that incident was the reason for my mother and father separating and her moving to town.
Of course she never felt that my dad would amount to anything, and my moms mother was involved and told her she was a beautiful girl, and my mom was 15 or 16 years old, so her mom told her she was smart and she should move to town and become somebody. Her mom told her she could find somebody better than Herman, that was my dads name. So, my mom moved to town and went to work for the “Red Light District” with my Aunt who ran the Red Light District. Of course all of this is in my book, my life story, and in the documentary that comes with my book is on the music side of things. Which of course both will give you a lot more to this story.
SR: I know your book is certainly more in-depth, but I would like to know more about your attitude and how you've approached everything you've accomplished during your life. There must have been something in your circle of influences that gave you such strength and endurance. We all have choice of how we are going to be- no matter where we come from. What were the bones that drove you?
RH: Poverty. I was born in poverty, raised in poverty and tragedy. My first wife was killed in a car wreck, and I was driving the car, and then my father had died on the tractor I had bought him. At this point I was making good money and my dad had turned to farming to make a living and was used to using a plow, but I wanted to make things easier on him and bought him a John Deere tractor. But it was two weeks after my wife’s death that while by daddy was driving his tractor that it turned over on him and his neck broke, it killed him. So a lot of tragedies in my life, starting with my mother leaving. Then I couldn’t get into the music business. I went to Nashville, I went to Memphis, I went to anywhere I could afford to go and no one wanted me in the music business.
SR: Why was that Rick?
RH: They didn't know who I was, or how determined I was to be a hit record producer. So, I went back to Muscle Shoals and built my own recording studio and started producing hit records and people began to come in from all over the world. They came from all over the world and I did Aretha Franklin's first number one record, I did all the Osmond's number one records, I did Tom Jones, and uh, well I will list you the names: Otis Redding; Wilson Pickett, Allman Brothers, Alabama, Waylon Jennings to name just a few.
SR: When you set your determination Rick, what was it you were really setting out to create?
RH: I was all the above! I wanted to be a song writer, producer, engineer, musician, I wanted to own a record company. I was a country picker first for a pretty long time.
SR: You really are multi-talented.
RH: Well, I didn't want to just be a 'country bumpkin.' I wanted to be somebody special and so far with God's help I have managed to become a part of it. I had to work hard, but I did it in a town called Muscle Shoals, a town of only 8,000 people.
SR: Your faith is obviously a huge part of who you are. Did your dad raise you in the church?
RH: I found it along the way, but my father was responsible along the way. He was a Gospel singer, he loved the sound and taught my sister and I to sing together. He also taught singing school when they came around once a year.
SR: Do you remember one of your dad's favorite Gospel songs he used to sing?
RH: Oh, yes. “Have a Little Talk with Jesus...,” “Keep On the Firing Line...,” of course “Amazing Grace.” He was a great singer. He would sing in quartet's that came through the country. He would walk ten miles to get to an all day singin with dinner on the ground.
SR: Rick would you feel comfortable singing a stanza from “Amazing Grace” for me?
RH: “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me...” (Rick continued to sing the first full verse.)
SR: Amen. Is there anything left in the music industry that you would like to do?
RH: That's a good question, let me see if I can come up with answer. I feel today's music has lost a lot. Today's musicians don't have the hard times to draw from, this I feel as affected our music. With the advent of computers coming in and downloads being available no one in the industry is getting paid to make music. Not the producers, writers, performers. And if it doesn't change, I feel in the next ten years music will be gone as we know it, the old will be around, but nothing new. We need to get back to communication. Not texting or over the net, but really face to face and living life in order to create music. Plus, everyone needs to get paid for what they are doing.
We need a work ethic to come back. When I was young I wanted it. And I wanted to make it. We had to give a lot but by the time I was 30 I did it. My wife and I are a team, we raised three boys, and I couldn’t do it without her.
Now, I want to tell you a little something. You tell me how does this little old town of Muscle Shoals of 8,000 people compete in the industry with the size of New York or Los Angeles? I tell you, it can happen, we did it. So, success has nothing to do on the size of anything it has to do with hard work and you can make it anywhere if you want to.
SR: Rick, I am amazed. May I ask how old you are?
RH: I AM 82 YEARS OLD. But you'd never know it by looking at me. I do all the things you do to live a long life! My wife came from the country, she was from a farm, and they don't make them like her anymore. She believes in hard work too. She has been with me on this journey and handles a great part of the business. She has been my accountant for the last 23 years! I have always been a family man first, and God has blessed us and given me my talent... He didn’t give me a work ethic, but gave me the gifts, now I just needed to use them!
*Rick Hall has developed two music studios, owns his own cattle ranch, has a condo on the beach, and yet his heart is humble and his work ethic carries him forth still today. Visit Fame Recording Studios, and take a tour. Feel what hard work, and passion create.
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