Jason Isbell

Praised for his masterful poetics and tasty guitar playing, four-time GRAMMY® winner Jason Isbell is considered one of the great Americana artists of our time.

Growing up in Northern Alabama, he was surrounded by music and learned to play multiple instruments through his family, playing in the school band, and singing at the church where his grandfather also preached and played guitar. Isbell believes his Alabaman heritage greatly impacted his development as a musician saying, “I definitely don’t feel like I would be the musician that I am, or the type of songwriter, had I not come from that particular place.”

He put his heart and soul into playing music and performed at the Grand Ole Opry at the tender age of 16, Just five years later, he received a publishing deal with Rodney & Mark Hall as the first new writer of their recently acquired FAME Publishing company, beginning a fifteen year relationship that includes recording and writing as a member of The Drive-By Truckers on their albums Decorations Day, Dirty South, Blessing and a Curse as well as his solo albums Sirens of the Ditch, Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Here We Rest, and Southeastern. Jason has also produced at FAME on the Blind Boys of Alabama track “Christmas in Dixie,” as well as a duet with John Paul White on “Old Flame”. Both of which were included on a tribute to the country supergroup Alabama. Jason and John Paul White were featured on a track with Candi Staton for the album Muscle Shoals-Small Town Big Sound”. The track would go on to be one of legendary producer Rick Hall’s final final productions. Isbell has said that working at FAME Studios meant everything to him, that it was a gateway towards the music that he wanted to play.

The name of his GRAMMY® winning band The 400 Unit is also deeply rooted in his time in Alabama. The 400 Unit is the name of a mental treatment facility in Florence, Alabama. As Isbell tells it, “About once a week they would drive downtown and take, I guess, the six or eight healthiest people in the facility and let ’em go downtown. Give ’em all like $15 apiece to go get some lunch. You’d immediately recognize who it was and why they were there; they all had nametags on, saying kinda strange stuff to everybody. And trying to get a sandwich at the same time,” adding, “When I started thinking about a band, and how we get to a new town and everybody gets $15 and gets out of the van, goes out and tries to get a sandwich, it kinda reminded me of that.” Both bassist Jimbo Hart and drummer Chad Gamble are Shoals area natives and have done a lot of studio session work at FAME outside of the 400 Unit over the last 20 years.

In addition to his four GRAMMY®s, Isbell has won nine Americana Music Honors and Awards and was the Country Music Hall-of-Fame Artist in Residence for 2017. He has also seen success across multiple genres as his album Something More Than Free debuted at number 1 on Billboard Magazine’s rock, folk and country record charts. Something More Than Free, Southeastern, and The Nashville Sound (with The 400 Unit) have sold nearly 150,000 copies each, with Southeastern being his most recently recorded album at Fame Studios. For The Nashville Sound (with The 400 Unit), Isbell garnered four peak chart positions in the United States and eight top-40 peak chart positions in Australia, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

Isbell is married to fellow Americana superstar Amanda Shires, co-founder of the Highwomen, and the two share a daughter together. He is an avid player and collector of guitars. He believes a special guitar “…is one that fulfills its purpose in design,” and discussed some of his vintage guitars with Guitar World in 2020. He currently owns roughly 50 to 60 guitars including a ’53 Les Paul gold top, a ’59 ‘burst dubbed “Red Eye” that once belonged to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ed King, a ’65 Tele, a ’60 Strat, a ’61 ES-335, a Gretsch White Falcon given to him by John Prine, a mid-50s Martin D-18, and more in his collection.

Outside of his musical career, Isbell has also seen success in acting with his first role being in 2016 providing the voice for pastor Kyle Nubbins in the animated television series Squidbillies. In 2021, Isbell earned his biggest role in the upcoming Martin Scorsese film Killers of the Flower Moon.

In 2019, Jason along with his manager, Traci Thomas gave the Shoals some love and launched their music festival, Shoalsfest. The festival has hosted thousands of fans to shows with artists like Sheryl Crow, Mavis Staples, Candi Staton, Drive By Truckers, Amanda Shires and Lucinda Williams and is one of the premier events in the Shoals musical calendar..

A loving husband, father, and other-worldly musician, Jason Isbell has achieved global success on a level that we at FAME knew was possible. Jason will always have a special place in our hearts as a member of the FAME Gang and we’re excited to see him continue to make genre-defining and genre-expanding music in the future.

Little Richard

The Innovator. The Originator. The Architect of Rock and Roll.

These are just a few of the names bestowed upon the legendary Richard Wayne Penniman, better known to the world as Little Richard, one of the most influential recording artists in the history of popular music. Few have left a more indelible mark on our culture’s fabric than Little Richard. One only needs to listen to The Rolling Stones (who toured with Richard in the early-60s), Jimi Hendrix (who played in Richard’s band for a short period) and The Beatles (who also toured on a bill with Richard in the early-60s).

According to Richard, as quoted in his biography, The Life and Times of Little Richard by Charles White, The Beatles’s manager, Brian Epstein, told him, “These boys worship you. You’re the only famous artist they’ve ever met. They’ve never met a famous person in their life. They want their picture taken with you.”

Sometimes, however, when we extol an artist for their influence, we can diminish their greatness somewhat by viewing them only in a light shined by others. It is not only because he influenced so many other rock and roll bands that we should remember how great Little Richard’s music is — because, in fact, there are so many aspects of his performance style and playing abilities that are still untouched by others — to this day.

Little Richard was born in Macon, Georgia, in 1932, the third of 12 children. Obsessed with music in his early years, he was given his first big break at the age of 14 opening for Sister Rosetta Tharpe at the Macon City Auditorium after hearing him singing her songs prior to a performance.

By 1949, he was performing in minstrel performer Doctor Nubillo’s traveling show and was later inspired to don some of the more flamboyant outfits worn by Nubillo — like capes and turbans — that would come to define the signature, electrifying, live performances he would become known at the apex of his career.

After years of touring and performing with little traction, Little Richard scored his first smash hit, “Tutti Frutti” in 1955, continuing to deliver an unprecedented string of hits in the late-50s, including “Long Tall Sally,” “Slippin’ and Slidin,’” “Ready Teddy,” “The Girl Can’t Help It,” (the title song for the 1956 movie of the same name starring Jane Mansfield) “Rip It Up,” and “Lucille,” to name only a few.

This record run of hits would come to an abrupt end, however, as in the middle of his 1957 tour with Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, Richard announced that he would be leaving popular music behind and following a life in the ministry.

Cutting the tour short and returning to the U.S. ten days earlier than expected, Richard learned that his original flight had crashed into the Pacific Ocean, further cementing his decision to stop performing secular music and he enrolled at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, to study theology, following a “farewell performance” at the Apollo Theater and a “final” recording session with Specialty Records.

His break from secular music would prove to be short-lived, and Richard embarked on several successful rock and roll tours throughout the sixties — although due to the arrival of the Beatles and other British bands as well as the rise of soul labels such as Motown and Stax Records, Richard’s new releases were not well promoted and found little airtime on the radio.

By 1970, three years had passed since the last new material from Little Richard. Wanting to cross over to both black rhythm and blues and white rock audiences, Richards signed with Reprise Records (having turned down offers from other labels, including The Beatles’s Apple Records).

Hoping to meld his signature sound with the hit-making power coming out of Muscle Shoals in the early 1970s, Little Richard decided to record his next album, The Rill Thing, at FAME Recording Studios under the direction of Producer Rick Hall.

“I worked with several of my early rock and roll idols who’d had a profound effect on the shape of my musical ideas. Little Richard was one.” said Hall (in his autobiography, “The Man From Muscle Shoals.”) “After Little Richard visited FAME, he made Muscle Shoals a part of his musical identity. A number of my best studio musicians, including guitarist Travis Wammack and bassist Jesse Boyce, later joined Richard’s road band and toured the world.”

Although The Rill Thing was not the commercial success Richard was hoping for, the album received near unanimous critical acclaim and delivered Richard his last Billboard Hot 100 hit, Greenwood, Mississippi, written by Travis Wammack and Albert Lowe Jr. Billboard Magazine described the album as a “stomping, swinging, soulful leap backwards in the rock ‘n’ rolling ’50’s with the Muscle Shoals gang” and Joel Selvin of Rolling Stone considered the album “a major artistic triumph for Little Richard” that “faithfully exhibits Richard’s maturity as an artist both through the selection of material and the contemporary instrumental setting”.

Little Richard continued to tour and record throughout his life and, in 1986, was a member of the first group of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and the Everly Brothers.

On May 9, 2020, Richard died at the age of 87 at his home in Tullahoma, Tennessee after a long illness.

FAME is honored to have played a part in the extraordinary career of a truly original and singular performer. While Little Richard would have always reached the heights of Rock n’ Roll supremacy, FAME wouldn’t have been the same without his ground-breaking music and style.

A wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom

Aretha Franklin

“Aretha Franklin was one of the most phenomenal recording artists I have ever met, and in a short twenty-four hour period in my FAME Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, she was to change my musical life forever.” — Rick Hall

It’s hard to fathom today, but there was a time when Aretha Franklin couldn’t buy a hit record. In 1966, after recording nine albums of feckless, light jazz, pop standards without a hit, she was released from her contract with Columbia Records and, at the age of 25, was at a crossroads in her career. That would all change in one electrically-charged, tension-filled, magical recording session on January 24, 1967.

Although she had yet to make her mark on popular music, Atlantic Records co-founder Jerry Wexler knew she had a voice and a once-in-a-lifetime talent that could transcend the musical boundaries that had been placed on her. She just needed the right songs and the right sound. She would find those songs and that sound in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Wexler had signed Franklin in November of 1966 and wanted to pair Aretha with the funky sound that was coming out of FAME Recording Studios, the sound and feel that was producing hit records for Jimmy Hughes and Wilson Pickett. On a mild January day in 1967, Wexler would get the sound he was looking for…and more.

As told by FAME founder Rick Hall in his memoir The Man From Muscle Shoals, “At around ten o’clock that morning, Aretha walked into the studio, then casually walked over to the baby-grand piano that sat in a corner of the studio in front of the large control room glass window, and sat down to do what she came to FAME to do – to cut a hit record and create her career on Atlantic.”

The session included a lineup of some of the best musicians Muscle Shoals had to offer: Roger Hawkins on drums, Tommy Cogbill on bass, Jimmy Johnson on rhythm guitar, Chips Moman on lead guitar, Charlie Chalmers and Ed Logan on saxophones, Ken Laxton on trumpet, David Hood on trombone, Spooner Oldham on electric piano, with Rick Hall engineering.

The first track they set out to record was “I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You),” a waltzy ballad that, according to Hall, needed a little something special to take off. That something special was provided by the great Spooner Oldham. As Hall recalled in TMFMS:

“We were looking for that special groove or hook that would set the record apart from the ordinary and it wasn’t long before Spooner Oldham filled that need. He started playing a funky, soulful blues riff on the Wurlitzer electric piano that set the mood for “I Never Loved A Man” – and became a signature piano blues riff forever

Like a Stradivarius violin, Wurlitzer pianos only mellow with age, and I still have two of them in my FAME Studios today, the one used on Aretha’s session and another one.

As soon as he hit it, everything about that track started coming together. The combination of Aretha playing her gospel-sounding acoustic piano fill lines and Spooner’s bluesy riff on the Wurlitzer glued the whole rhythm track together and set the tone for Aretha to belt out, “You’re a no good heartbreaker, you’re a liar, and you’re a cheat ….”

By the end of the day, Franklin would have the A and B sides of a number one record: “I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You)/ Do Right Woman, Do Right Man”.

Over 54 years on, the story of the tumultuous session that birthed those hits has morphed, distorted, and expanded into legend. To hear Rick Hall tell it, check out his aforementioned memoir, or see it depicted on the big screen in the upcoming biopic RESPECT, coming to theaters on August 13, 2021.

Although Aretha Franklin would never record in FAME Studios again after that historic session, we feel honored that our stories are forever intertwined. Aretha, of course, would go on to become one of the greatest singers who ever recorded and FAME continues to make hit records to this day. However, neither would be the same after that magical day in January.

Thank you, Aretha. For the music, for the soul, and for the memories. Thank you.

David Hood

Start by playing Percy Sledge’s “Warm and Tender Love” from the album Warm & Tender Soul.

Focus in on the bass line. Simple, but exact; undeviating and absolute. Now, throw on Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome” and listen for the bouncy groove that gives the song its driving energy. Two very different songs, two perfect outcomes, two examples of the mastery and range of David Hood. 

For over 50 years, David Hood has provided backbone and signature bass lines to some of the greatest songs ever recorded. Never adding more than the song needs, never delivering less than the song deserves, yet always providing his signature blend of innovation and command of the musical lexicon. Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Etta James, Cher, Bob Seger, Willie Nelson, Cat Stevens, The Staple Singers, Julien Lennon, Traffic…the list is endless.

Born in Sheffield, Alabama, David Hood is Muscle Shoals through-and-through. He picked up his first bass guitar at the age of 16 and the world of music hasn’t been the same since. He first wandered into FAME Recording Studios to record a track with The Mystics, a local band he was playing with at the time, and it wasn’t long after that he was being called into the studio by Rick Hall for session work — including historic sessions with Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, and Etta James. Along with his legendary contributions on bass, he also played trombone on James and Bobby Purify’s “I’m Your Puppet” and Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You),” amongst others.

In 1969, Hood and the fabled rhythm section known as “The Swampers” (David Hood, Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, and Jimmy Johnson) left FAME to open Muscle Shoals Sound Studio at 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield where they continued recording hits for artists including Paul Simon, Cher, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, Levon Helm, and an endless list of others. In the mid-1970s, “The Swampers” also took their show on the road, joining Traffic for tours of Europe and the United States. The live album “Traffic: On The Road” offers superb proof of what these incomparable musicians could offer outside of the studio setting.

Hood’s career success has continued unabated throughout the 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, through today. David recently played with the stardom bound War and Treaty for FAME’s 60th anniversary project.  In 2014, David joined the folk-rock group The Waterboys for a tour of Europe that lasted through 2016 and, in 2019, he added his virtuoso playing to Sheryl Crow’s eleventh studio album Threads, which also featured Jason Isbell, Stevie Nicks, Neil Young, Willie Nelson, and Keith Richards, to name only a few.

In 1995, Hood was inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame and in 2008, along with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame

While we at FAME have always known David Hood is a once-in-a-lifetime musician, we have always thought of him firstly as a trusted friend, loving father, and all-around beautiful human-being. FAME wouldn’t be what it is today without David Hood and we would like to take this opportunity to honor and celebrate his legacy — a legacy that shows no signs of letting up — and to thank him for being a beloved member of the FAME Gang!

Etta James

“When I sing for myself, I probably sing for anyone who has any kind of hurt, any kind of bad feelings, good feelings, ups and downs, highs and lows, that kind of thing.” — Etta James

That voice.

Powerful. Assured. In control of every phrase and note. 

Etta James’s Tell Mama is a tour-de-force that showcases the swagger and poised sensuality that became the hallmarks of her Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame career. It has been said that you could hear her whole life in her voice.

And, yet, when Etta James first walked into FAME Recording Studios on a sultry August day in 1967, the 29-year-old singer — and those around her — had little reason to believe she was at the top of her game. Fighting a heroin addiction, the years prior to 1967 had found her forging prescriptions, bouncing checks, and stealing from friends to finance her habit. Jame’s career was suffering and something needed to change.

James had been brought down to Muscle Shoals at the encouragement of Leonard Chess, the co-founder of Chess Records, who had produced or co-produced five of her six previous albums for Chess subsidiary labels Argo and Cadet, beginning with 1960’s At Last!. Chess believed that recording at FAME would remove her from the big city temptations that had been plaguing her life. He also believed that working with acclaimed producer Rick Hall would inject the same hit-making, “Muscle Shoals Sound,” magic that he had previously delivered for artists such as Clarence Carter, Aretha Franklin, and Wilson Pickett. 

James would also be backed by one of the great rhythm sections of all-time: The Swampers, featuring Jimmy Ray Johnson and Albert “Junior” Lowe on guitars; Roger Hawkins on drums; Barry Beckett and Spooner Oldham on keyboards; and David Hood on bass. The sessions also included a brass section featuring Gene “Bowlegs” Miller on trumpet; James Mitchell and Aaron Varnell on sax; and Floyd Newman on baritone sax. 

The combination of Etta James and this once-in-a-lifetime collection of musicians was electric.

Tell Mama kicks off with the title track, a song Hall had recorded previously in 1966 with Clarence Carter (as “Tell Daddy”). Like Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along The Watchtower,” Etta James makes the song her own and her raw, emotional performance sets a very high bar for an album that consistently raises the bar. “Tell Mama” was released as a single in October of 1967, and was a Billboard R&B Top 10 hit.

The album’s second track, “I’d Rather Go Blind,” is another instant blues/soul classic that has since been covered by an eclectic range of artists, including B.B. King, Paul Weller, Rod Stewart, and Beyoncé. Legend has it that when Leonard Chess heard the song for the first time, he had to leave the room in tears.

Speaking to al.com in 2018, Grammy Award-winning, singer-songwriter Jason Isbell had this to say about Rick Hall’s production on the record: 

“He served the song. Rick understood that what really matters is: How good is this song? And what can we do to let everybody know how good this song is? But I think the heart of it, what really made “I’d Rather Go Blind” stand up and hold up and sound current was the fact that a great song never sounds dated. And Rick knew that.”

At just under thirty minutes, there isn’t a wasted moment in the 12 songs that make up Tell Mama. 

Sadly, James would continue to struggle with her addictions for years before finally overcoming them. In 1978, she opened for the Rolling Stones in support of the Stones’s Some Girls album. Keith Richards would later write about his love for James in his 2010 memoir “Life”:

“Another great singer and a girl after my own heart — as well as my bride in a rock-and-roll “marriage” — is Etta James. She’d been making records from the early ’50s, when she was a doo-wop singer. She’s expanded into every range since then … Now, Etta had been a junkie. So we found reciprocation almost immediately … It takes one look in the eye for one to know another. Incredibly strong, Etta, with a voice that could take you to hell or take you to heaven. And we hung in a dressing room, and like all ex-junkies, we talked about the junk. And why did we do this, the usual soul-searching. This culminated in a backstage wedding, which in show business terms is like, you get married but you’re not really married. You exchange vows and stuff, on the top of the backstage stairs. And she gave me a ring, I gave her a ring, and actually that’s where I decided her name’s Etta Richards. She’ll know what I mean.”

Etta James released more than 20 albums in the course of her five-decade career, won six Grammy awards, and was voted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. The FAME family will always feel blessed to be a part of her legend. To hear select tracks off Tell Mama and over six-and-a-half hours of FAME Recording Studios classics, go to our FAME Studios and Publishing early years playlist here on Spotify.

Bobbie Gentry

“To me, producing ‘Fancy’ was like producing a movie score. I had always wanted to produce a record that would paint a picture in your mind.”

— Rick Hall

There are times in history when things align perfectly and magic is produced from situations that seem less than conducive to the creation of genre-defining art. When Bobbie Gentry walked into FAME Recording Studios, in 1969, to work for the first time with FAME owner and producer Rick Hall, her career was seemingly at a precipice. Her debut album, Ode To Billie Joe, had rocketed to the top of the Billboard charts in 1967 (knocking The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from the number one spot) on the back of the album’s eponymous single, which was the number one song on the Billboard charts for four weeks and ranked as the number three song of 1967 behind Lulu’s “To Sir With Love,” and The Box Tops’ “The Letter.” Gentry also garnered the 1967 Grammy Award for Most Promising Female Vocalist. 

Her second album, the avant-garde concept album centered around contemporary life in the Deep South, 1968’s The Delta Sweete, received positive reviews, but failed to crack the Billboard Top 100 — peaking at 132. Gentry released two more albums in 1968, Local Gentry and an album of duets with Glen Campbell, Bobbie Gentry and Glen Campbell, which was certified Gold and earned Gentry and Campbell the Academy of Country Music award for Album of the Year.

In 1969, she released her fifth studio album, Touch ‘Em With Love, which included only two songs written by Gentry and only reached number 164 on the Billboard 200. 

Working with Rick Hall in Muscle Shoals offered Gentry a chance to recalibrate. Although Fancy includes only one track penned by Gentry (the title track), the songs on the album are a tour-de-force return to the assertive and powerful narrative songs that are the hallmark of her talent and the partnership with Hall seemed to be a match made in recording studio Heaven.

As Hall later recalled, “The first time I heard Ode to Billie Joe, I was driving past the studio, and I almost ran my car into a telephone pole! I was so amazed! Her story was my story. That’s how I grew up. “Bale the hay. Pass the biscuits,” you know? There were so many Southern things that she did. I felt in my heart that if I ever met her, we’d hit it off. I offered to produce her. We had dinner together, and we did hit it off. We had a great time together. She was one of my very favorites.”

One of the many things that set Bobbie Gentry apart was her insistence on success on her own terms, perhaps best put by writer Tara Murtha her book for the series “33 ⅓” from Bloomsbury Press, Ode to Billie Joe, wherein she describes Gentry as “…a remarkable businesswoman, and a talented multi-instrumentalist artist. She was ahead of her time in a male-dominated industry in an era when sex appeal helped move product, but could also be a liability for a woman who wanted to conduct her own business. Women wanted me to know that she went out of her way to help other women come up in the industry.”

Fancy is a feminist epic which has only grown in stature over the years. Gentry’s unmatched talent (she also painted the album’s cover) combined with Rick Hall’s production, and choice backing contributions from The FAME Gang, produced a seminal album that will continue to inspire multiple generations. FAME is honored to have worked with the one-and-only Bobbie Gentry and is proud to consider her family. We’re excited to put Fancy on heavy rotation and celebrate one of the true greats for May’s FAME Backstage Artist of the Month.

Duane Allman

There are millions of guitar players around the world; tens of millions. So, to be thought of as one of the greatest guitar players of all-time, you’ve got to be pretty special. Duane Allman was a special guitar player — and human — to say the least. In 2003, Duane was ranked number 2 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time. 

There are some guitar players — maybe a handful — who transcend the boundaries of the instrument to a point where you hear a song and you know right away who is playing. Duane Allman was one of those players and his guitar tone was named one of the greatest of all time by Guitar Player.

In 1968, at the age of 22, Duane moved to Muscle Shoals to work as a session guitarist in a studio where he and his brother, Gregg, had recorded earlier that year with their band Hour Glass. Duane arrived in Muscle Shoals, pitched a tent and camped out in the parking lot of FAME Studios in order to be closer to the recording sessions. 

During his time at FAME, Duane Allman put his indelible mark on some of the most timeless recordings to come out of that — or any — era, including Wilson Pickett’s cover of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” Clarence Carter’s “The Dynamic Clarence Carter,” Arthur Conley’s “More Sweet Soul,” and King Curtis’ Grammy Award winning cover of The Band’s ‘The Weight,” which includes slide guitar work that still puts players jaws on the floor to this day. Auditions for what would become the Allman Brothers Band were later held in FAME’s historic Studio B with Gregg meeting and playing with Jaimoe and Berry Oakley for the first time.

Duane’s time in Muscle Shoals allowed him to let loose the kinetic energy he felt had been stifled by his time shuffling around the Los Angeles music scene:

“I rented a cabin and lived alone on this lake,” he said. “I just sat and played and got used to living without a bunch of jive Hollywood crap in my head. It’s like I brought myself back to earth and came back to life again through that, and the sessions with good R & B players.”

Allman’s work on Pickett’s “Hey Jude” album brought him to the attention of other musicians, including Eric Clapton who later said, “I remember hearing Wilson Pickett’s ‘Hey Jude’ and just being astounded by the lead break at the end. I had to know who that was immediately — right now.”

Sadly, Duane Allman’s life was cut short when he was killed in a motorcycle accident on October 29, 1971, shortly after the release of The Allman Brothers’ ultra-successful “At Fillmore East.” 

It’s been 50 years since the death of Duane Allman, yet his stature has only grown over the years. Every guitar player who has walked through the famous doorway at FAME feels the spirit and sound that still echoes through the rooms and know they have big strings to fill. This month, FAME is humbled and proud to honor a true legend in the history of music: The Sky Dog, Duane Allman.

Clarence Carter

Clarence Carter’s time at Fame produced some of the most soulful grooves in the history of recorded music. “Patches,” “Slip Away”, and “Too Weak to Fight” alone would be enough to be placed in the conversation when talking about the great soul artists of all-time — and that’s before mentioning hits like “Backdoor Santa” (with its distinctive horn break, later sampled by Run DMC on their “Christmas in Hollis), “Snatching It Back” and “Making Love (At The Dark End Of The Street).”

Blind at birth, Clarence Carter was born in Montgomery, Ala., in 1936. His grandmother gave him his first guitar at the age of nine. Carter graduated with a bachelor of science degree in music at Alabama State University, where he teamed with another blind student Calvin Scott, recording under the name Clarence & Calvin — later changing to the CC Boys — and serving as back-up musicians for touring acts, such as Otis Redding and John Lee Hooker.

In 1965, Carter and Scott, looking for that elusive hit record, wandered into FAME Recording Studios to record the songs ”Step by Step” and “Rooster Knees and Rice”.  FAME owner Rick Hall immediately recognized their distinctive sound and talent. Later, the CC Boys recorded singles at FAME which found their way to famed producer Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records. The Carter/Scott partnership was not long-lived and Carter embarked on a solo career in 1966, signing with the FAME label and co-writing and releasing the hit single “Tell Daddy” which hit #35 on the Billboard Charts in January, 1967. The reworked song would later be a monster hit for Etta James as “Tell Mama,” also recorded at FAME.

Carter released the “This Is Clarence Carter” album, in 1968, which earned him his first gold record with the million-selling hit “Slip Away,” which featured Spooner Oldham on keyboards. The following year, he continued his run of success with his second gold record, ”Too Weak to Fight,” from the album “The Dynamic Clarence Carter,” which also featured guitar work by a yet-unknown guitarist by the name of Duane Allman. 

In the early 1970s, Carter continued churning out hits with such songs as “The Feeling Is Right,” “Making Love (At The Dark End Of The Street),” and “Patches,” which reached number two on the U.S. R&B chart.  “Patches” won a Grammy Award for “Best R&B Song” in 1971.

In 2001, “Slip Away” also had the unique honor of appearing on the soundtracks for the best adapted screenplay nominee “Wonder Boys,” and the best original screenplay winner “Almost Famous” at the Academy Awards.

After more than six decades, Carter is still going strong, releasing new records and touring. FAME is honored to be a part of his legacy and to highlight his legendary career. To re-introduce yourself to one of the most dynamic and fruitful periods in the history of Southern Soul, check out Clarence Carter — The FAME Singles Volume One here: https://famestudios.com/product/clarence-carter-the-fame-singles-volume-1/

Candi Staton

Between 1968 and 1974, Candi Staton released a trilogy of albums on FAME Records that rightfully places her in the pantheon of “greatest female vocalists of all time.” “I’m Just a Prisoner,” “Stand By Your Man,” and “Candi Staton” are genre-defining classics that cemented Southern Soul as a musical artform.

Candi Stanton’s first session at FAME Recording Studios took place on September 25, 1968, culminating in the single “I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart” that reached #9 on the R&B charts. Candi is a beloved member of the FAME family, giving us a treasure trove of timeless R&B classics including the Grammy-nominated hits “Stand by Your Man” and “In the Ghetto.” To hear a comprehensive overview of Staton’s work at FAME, check out the Ace Records release “Evidence – The Complete Fame Records Masters” which contains every song she recorded for FAME between 1968 and 1974.

Throughout her career, Staton’s singular vocal ability has tamed any musical genre she has lent her talents to, and following her fruitful time at FAME, Candi went on to record the massive Disco generation hits “Young Hearts Run Free” and “Disco Hit “Victim.” Candi performed and recorded with a wide range of artists including Mac Davis, B.B. King, Al Green, Bobby Womack, Ashford and Simpson, Boz Scaggs, Little Richard, The Commodores, and Johnny Mathis.

In 2014, Candi was FINALLY inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in recognition of her nearly a half-century of contributions to Alabama’s music legacy.

We are honored to have Candi Staton in our family, and we are forever grateful for the kindness she has shown FAME over the years. The sign above the entryway to FAME’s studios reads “Through these doors walk the finest musicians, songwriters, artists and producers in the world.” This month, FAME is proud to celebrate the legacy of an artist that ranks among the best of whom that sign describes, the First Lady of Southern Soul, Candi Staton.

Wilson Pickett

The word “pioneer” gets thrown around a lot these days to describe people that really aren’t all that pioneering. However, when talking about soul legend Wilson Pickett, the word barely does him justice. Wilson Pickett was an electric performer who oozed raw soul and helped define the sound of Southern Soul with hits that include — but aren’t limited to — “Mustang Sally,” “Land of 1000 Dances,” and “Funky Broadway.”

Born in Prattville, Alabama, in 1941, the youngest of 11 children, Pickett became forever etched in the Muscle Shoals firmament when, in 1966, famed record executive Jerry Wexler brought Pickett to FAME Studios. Initially skeptical about returning to his home state, and recording with FAME’s all-white Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, Pickett fell into a remarkable creative groove, recording an embarrassingly rich collection of timeless hits during his stint at FAME, such as the aforementioned “Land of A Thousand Dances” and “Mustang Sally.”

Always the innovator, Pickett also recorded what many believe to be the first “Southern Rock” record when he used Duane Allman as a session guitarist on his hit cover of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” which appeared on the LP of the same name and also included a cover of Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” and “Sit Down and Talk This Over,” co-written by Pickett and Bobby Womack.

Although Pickett recorded sporadically after the 1970s and produced fewer hit records, his live performances remained legendary. Wilson Pickett was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. In 2003, Pickett was featured in the documentary Only The Strong Survive, and continued to perform while battling numerous health issues, before succumbing to a heart attack in Ashburn, Virginia, on January 19, 2006.

The walls of FAME still echo with the sound of Wilson Pickett’s genius. His legacy and the songs he left us will forever be remembered and continue to give back well into the future. We feel blessed to have known Wilson Pickett and to have played a small part in helping deliver his vision and feel forever indebted for what he gave to Muscle Shoals.