FAME Studios

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FAME Studios
FAME Recording Studios Muscle Shoals.jpg
FAME Recording Studios in 2010
Location 603 Avalon Avenue, Muscle Shoals, Alabama 35661, USA
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]
Official name: Florence, Alabama Music Enterprises (FAME) Recording Studios
Designated November 29, 2016
Reference no. 16000397
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 distant from 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. It was started in the 1950s by Rick Hall, known as the Founder of Muscle Shoals Music.[2] The studio, still owned by Hall, is still actively operating. It was added to the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage on December 15, 1997,[1] and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016. The 2013 award-winning documentary Muscle Shoals features Rick Hall, the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section (also called The Swampers), and the Muscle Shoals sound originally popularized by FAME.


Early history[edit]

FAME (standing for Florence Alabama Music Enterprises)[3] was founded by Rick Hall, Billy Sherrill, and Tom Stafford in the late 1950s. It was first located above the City Drug Store in Florence, Alabama. Two doors down was a pawn shop - "Uncle Sams" - where aspiring artists would buy or pawn their instruments, depending on the trajectory of their careers. The studio 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.[4] Hall took the proceeds from that recording to build the current facility, on Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals. In 1963, he recorded the first hit produced in that building, Jimmy Hughes' "Steal Away".

As the word about Muscle Shoals began to spread other artists began coming there to record. The Nashville producer Felton Jarvis brought Tommy Roe and recorded Roe's song "Everybody" in 1963. The Atlanta music publisher Bill Lowery, who had mentored Hall in his early days, sent the Tams. The Nashville publisher and producer Buddy Killen brought Joe Tex. Leonard Chess encouraged Etta James to record there, and she made her 1967 hit "Tell Mama" and the album of the same name at FAME. Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records brought both Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin to record. The recording session with Franklin 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 the Allman Brothers Band, 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.[5] He soon befriended Rick Hall and Wilson Pickett, who was recording there. While on lunch break, Allman taught Pickett "Hey Jude"; their version of the song was eventually recorded in 1968, with Allman playing 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. 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 four primary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section members (Barry Beckett (keyboards), Jimmy Johnson (guitar), Roger Hawkins (drums), and David Hood (bass)), left to found a competing business, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, originally at 3614 Jackson Highway in nearby Sheffield, Alabama. Subsequently, Hall hired the Fame Gang as the new studio band.[6] Also called the Third FAME Rhythm Section, consisted of eight musicians plus arranger-producer Mickey Buckins. This group backed up singers such as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, Bobbie Gentry, Etta James, and Candi Staton during recording sessions at FAME Studios.[7]

1970s to 1990s[edit]

Rick Hall at FAME Studios in 2010 (photo 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 the singer Bobbie Gentry, who recorded the album Fancy (1970), and then with the 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. Many artists recorded with The Fame Gang such as Joe Tex, Bobby Blue Bland, Eddie Floyd, Candi Staton, Clarence Carter,[8] Little Milton, Sawyer Brown, Tony Joe White, Duane Allman, Boz Scaggs, Elkie Brooks, Paul Simon, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Joe Cocker, Jim Capaldi, Julian Lennon, Delbert McClinton, J. J. Cale, John Prine, the Oak Ridge Boys, the Rolling Stones.

Hall continued producing country hits in the 1980s, including Jerry Reed's number 1 records "She Got the Goldmine (I Got the Shaft)" and "The Bird" in 1982. He also started Gus Hardin's career with the popular "After the Last Good-bye" and had a hit 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?" by T.G. Sheppard in 1985. Top 5 singles include "Strong Heart" (1985), "One for the Money" (1987), and a number 1 single, "You're My First Lady" (1987) by T.G. Sheppard also.

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 to 1967, Capitol Records from 1969 to 1972, and United Artists Records from 1972 through early 1974. In 2007, Hall reactivated the FAME Records label through a distribution deal with EMI.[9]

21st Century[edit]

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

Fame Sessions, the second album by the Nightowls, was recorded at FAME Studios in September 2015 in collaboration with David Hood and Spooner Oldham.[10]


  1. ^ a b "Properties on the Alabama Register of Landmarks & Heritage". Alabama Historical Commission. Archived from the original on 4 September 2012. Retrieved 25 October 2012. 
  2. ^ "Rick Hall – Tishomingo, Alabama". Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Alabama Music Hall of Fame. 1985. Retrieved January 20, 2017. Recognized as the “Father of Muscle Shoals Music,” maverick producer, publisher, songwriter, musician and studio owner Rick Hall founded FAME Recording Studios and produced the Muscle Shoals music industry’s first national hits. 
  3. ^ "Rick Hall – Tishomingo, Alabama". Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Alabama Music Hall of Fame. 1985. Retrieved January 20, 2017. FAME Recording Studio’s name is actually an acronym for “Florence Alabama Music Enterprises. 
  4. ^ Muscle Shoals Sound. Liner notes. Rhino Records R2 71517, 1993.
  5. ^ Poe, Randy; Gibbons, Billy F. (2006). Skydog: The Duane Allman Story. Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Backbeat Books. ISBN 0879308915. 
  6. ^ Brown, Mick (October 2013). "How Muscle Shoals became music's most unlikely hit factory". Telegraph. London, England. Retrieved January 18, 2017. 
  7. ^ "The Rhythm Sections". FAME2. FAME. 2017. Retrieved January 20, 2017. The FAME Gang even did an album on themselves... The Fame Gang isn't just a title for whatever musicians happened to be available on a given day. 
  8. ^ http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1247
  9. ^ "Rick Hall – Tishomingo, Alabama". Alabama Music Hall of Fame. Alabama Music Hall of Fame. 1985. Retrieved January 20, 2017. deal with EMI ... combined new material by FAME artists with reissues of classic recordings from Muscle Shoals’ Southern soul heyday.. 
  10. ^ "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. 

External links[edit]