FAME Studios

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FAME Studios
FAME Recording Studios Muscle Shoals.jpg
FAME Recording Studios in 2010
Location Muscle Shoals, Alabama
Coordinates 34°44′42″N 87°40′00″W / 34.74506°N 87.66667°W / 34.74506; -87.66667Coordinates: 34°44′42″N 87°40′00″W / 34.74506°N 87.66667°W / 34.74506; -87.66667
Official name: FAME Recording Studio
Designated Dec 15, 1997[1]
FAME Studios is located in Alabama
FAME Studios
Location of FAME Studios in Alabama

FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) Studios are located at 603 East Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, an area of northern Alabama known as The Shoals. Though small and out of the way of the main recording locations of the American music industry, FAME has produced a large number of hit records and was instrumental in what came to be known as the "Muscle Shoals sound". Started in the 1950s by Rick Hall, the studio is still actively recording, and was added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage on December 15, 1997.[1] The 2013 award-winning documentary Muscle Shoals features Rick Hall, the Swampers, and the Muscle Shoals sound initially popularized by FAME studios.


Early history[edit]

Founded by Rick Hall, Billy Sherrill and Tom Stafford in the late 1950s, the studio was first located above the City Drug Store in Florence, Alabama. The facility was moved to a former tobacco warehouse on Wilson Dam Road in Muscle Shoals in the early 1960s, when Hall split from Sherrill and Stafford. Hall soon recorded the first hit record from the Muscle Shoals area, Arthur Alexander's "You Better Move On" in 1961.[2] Hall took the proceeds from that recording to build the current facility on Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals, and in 1963, Hall recorded the first hit produced in that building, Jimmy Hughes' "Steal Away".

As the word about Muscle Shoals began to spread other acts began coming to the location to record. Nashville producer Felton Jarvis brought Tommy Roe and recorded Roe's song "Everybody" in 1963. Atlanta Music Publisher Bill Lowery, who had mentored Hall through his early days, sent The Tams. Nashville Publisher/Producer Buddy Killen brought Joe Tex, while Leonard Chess encouraged Etta James to record there, resulting in her 1967 hit "Tell Mama" and the album of the same name. Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records brought both Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin to record. The recording session with Aretha Franklin also brought conflict: one of the horn players was fresh with the singer, and her husband had him fired from the session. Later that evening Hall went over to make up with Franklin and her husband but a fight ensued, and the recording session was canceled. Wexler swore to Hall he would never work with him again.

Duane Allman, later of Allman Brothers Band fame, once pitched a tent and camped out in the parking lot of FAME studios in an effort to be near the recording sessions occurring there.[3] He soon befriended both the studio's owner, Rick Hall, and Wilson Pickett during a series of recording sessions by the singer. While on lunch break, Allman taught Pickett "Hey Jude"; Allman and Wilson's version of the song was eventually recorded in 1968 with Allman on lead guitar. On hearing the session, people at Atlantic began asking who had played the guitar solos, and Hall responded with a hand-written note that read "some hippie cat who's been living in our parking lot." Shortly afterward, Allman was offered a recording contract; auditions for the Allman Brothers Band were later held at FAME Studios. Duane Allman loved the area, and frequently returned to The Shoals for session work throughout his life.

The session musicians who worked at the studio became known as the "Muscle Shoals Horns" and the "Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section" (or, "The Swampers"). In 1969, just after Hall had signed a deal with Capitol Records, the Swampers left to found a rival studio, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.

1970s to 1990s[edit]

Rick Hall at FAME Studios in 2010 by Carol M. Highsmith

As the hits kept coming, Hall expanded into the area of teen pop hits with The Osmonds, a vocal group from Utah, featuring the younger brother Donny Osmond. The collaboration resulted in the hit "One Bad Apple" in 1970, among others, and helped Hall to become named "Producer of the Year" in 1971. As the decade of the 70s rolled in, Hall began moving into country music, first with vocalist Bobbie Gentry who recorded the album Fancy (1970) and then with singer/songwriter Mac Davis, who topped both the Pop and Country charts with "Baby, Don't Get Hooked on Me" (1972). Davis recorded four gold albums at FAME, with the singles "Texas in My Rear View Mirror" and "Hooked On Music" becoming hits on both the country and pop charts.

Hall continued producing country hits in the 1980s, including Jerry Reed's #1 records, "She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)" and "The Bird (Jerry Reed song)" in 1982. He also started Gus Hardin's career with the popular "After the Last Good-bye" and had a smash album with Larry Gatlin and The Gatlin Brothers, Houston to Denver (1984). Hall's productions on T.G. Sheppard's LPs include Livin' on the Edge (1985), It Still Rains in Memphis (1986) and One for the Money (1987). Top 20 singles included "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" by the Elvin Bishop Group in 1975. Top 10 singles included "In Over My Heart" and "Doncha?" in 1985. Top 5 singles include "Strong Heart" (1985), "One for the Money" (1987) and a #1 single, "You're My First Lady" (1987).

Hall then returned to the way he did it in the beginning, developing new artists. A local country band that was playing in a club down the street from FAME Studios came to his attention and he and Robert Byrne co-produced an LP with the group Shenandoah. Hall made a record deal with CBS Records and the group thereafter had top 10 singles with "She Doesn't Cry Anymore" (1985)and "See If I Care" (1990), top 5 singles with "Mama Knows" (1988) and "The Moon Over Georgia" (1991), and six number 1 singles with "The Church on Cumberland Road" (1989), "Sunday in the South" (1989), "Two Dozen Roses" (1989), "Next to You, Next to Me" (1990), "Ghost in This House" (1990) and "I Got You" (1991).

In addition to FAME studios, Hall operates FAME Records, whose original roster included Clarence Carter, Candi Staton, Jimmy Hughes, Willie Hightower and The Fame Gang. The original run of the label was between 1964 and 1974, with distribution handled by Vee-Jay Records from 1964 to 1966, Atco Records from 1966-1967, Capitol Records from 1969-1972, and United Artists Records from 1972 through early 1974.

21st Century[edit]

In 2007, Bettye LaVette's Grammy-nominated CD The Scene of the Crime was recorded at FAME Recording Studios, produced by Patterson Hood and Drive-By Truckers. The Truckers also backed Lavette on the record, with contributions from David Hood and Spooner Oldham.

Fame Sessions, the second album for The Nightowls, was recorded at FAME Studios in September, 2015 in collaboration with David Hood and Spooner Oldham from the original studio house band The Swampers.[4]


  1. ^ a b "Properties on the Alabama Register of Landmarks & Heritage". Alabama Historical Commission. www.preserveala.org. Retrieved 25 October 2012. 
  2. ^ ‘’Muscle Shoals Sound’’, Rhino Records Inc. R2 71517, liner notes, 1993
  3. ^ Poe, Randy; Gibbons, Billy F. (2006). Skydog - The Duane Allman Story (First ed.). Milwaukee, WI: Backbeat Books. ISBN 0879308915. 
  4. ^ "Steeped In The History Of Southern Soul, The Nightowls Release 'Fame Sessions' (Sept 4th/ Super Sonic Sounds)". Shore Fire Media. 26 June 2015. Retrieved 28 October 2015. 

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