The Muscle Shoals music scene, and its pioneer Rick Hall, have received a lot of attention recently. The Muscle Shoals documentary film devoted a great deal of coverage to Hall’s work and in January 2014 the Grammy committee presented him with a Special Merit award. Only a man with such great talent could have made a one-track country town in Alabamaan important centre of the American recording industry. As a tribute to his outstanding legacy, we are releasing the first volume in our “The Complete Fame Singles” series.
Hall opened Fame Recording Studios in 1961. Arthur Alexander’s timeless single, ‘You Better Move On’ b/w ‘A Shot Of Rhythm and Blues’ – a big hit on Dot and a monumental influence on a generation of UK musicians, was the first of many hits recorded at Fame. At first Hall hired out the studio to producers such as Ray Stevens and Bill Lowery who wanted to take advantage of his crack studio band and his engineering skills. He also issued a few records by local acts on the R and H or Fame labels and leased out other masters to larger imprints for national distribution. When he found Jimmy Hughes, who he hoped would follow Arthur Alexander as his star act, he licensed ‘I’m Qualified’ to Jamie-Guyden in Philadelphia. Only when he failed to place Hughes’ follow-up with a national company was he forced to start Fame as a serious label, helped by Dan Penn, his main songwriter and right-hand man in the studio. This is the point where our collection begins.
The single was the southern soul masterpiece ‘Steal Away’. Following Hall and Penn’s early attempts at promotion, the record was picked up by Vee-Jay for national distribution. On the back of a Top 20 Pop hit and a #2 position on Cash Box’s R&B chart, Vee-Jay demanded more material from Hughes and signed a distribution deal for the Fame label. Fame attempted to repeat Jimmy Hughes’ success and issued a selection of records from musicians who formed the team around Rick Hall.
On this first of three volumes, we follow the development of the great songwriting team of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham and hear the records made during the years 1964 to 1967. Many failed to make a mark, as much of the label’s early period was devoted to finding out what route would lead to success. By the end of the second disc, Clarence Carter is established as the label’s main star, distribution has switched to Atlantic and the Fame label’s path is set. The 52 tracks here tell this fascinating story.
By Dean Rudland
Ace continues its deep excavation of the FAME vaults with the inaugural installment of The Complete FAME Singles, a double-disc, 52-track set that contains the As and Bs of every 45 released between 1964 and 1967. As the collection begins, FAME makes the leap from studio to label with Jimmy Hughes’ “Steal Away,” a brilliant Southern soul single that pointed the way to the future and placed Rick Hall’s Muscle Shoals studio on the map. FAME signed a distribution deal with Vee-Jay, a venture that wound up not quite suiting their needs, so they wound up jumping camp to Atlantic later, but this installment traces the label’s earliest years, when they were still scrambling for a distinctive voice. Hits came slow when they came at all but, in retrospect, that’s the pleasure of this uncertain era: Hall let songwriter/producers Dan Penn and Spooner Oldhamfigure out what would work and what wouldn’t, giving them the leeway to fail, which occasionally meant FAME artists were chasing the success of other hitmakers, including when the Villagers covered the Beatles’ “You’re Gonna Lose That Girl.” At times, the brain trust at FAME shot for the pop fences — Terry Woodford is the greatest example of AM pop desires — but toward the end of this comp, the deep soulful groove of the South surfaces on sides by Arthur Conley and Clarence Carter, the latter becoming the label’s first true star. These sides, which amount to about a quarter of the comp, will be what satisfy deep soul fans, but the rest of the compilation compels because it showcases a label that didn’t know quite know how to move forward and were happy to try anything that might stick. There’s some pure pop and blue-eyed soul, the kind of thing that would suggest a crossover, but much of this is loose, funky, and grooving, music that was made not for the charts but for the love of it, and that’s why these singles weren’t hits at the time but endure decades later
The first of a three-volume set of double CDs which tells the story of Fame Records and its subsidiary labels from 1964 through until 1973.
This first volume cover the 26 singles released by the label between 1964 and 1967. These bring us not just the very deepest of southern soul, but also attempts at pop-soul and garage rock by the local musicians who made up the studio’s house bands.
Included are some of the earliest recordings of Jimmy Hughes, Dan Penn and Clarence Carter, obscurities by June Conquest and the Villagers, and Northern Soul classics by James Barnett and Art Freeman. 12 tracks are new to CD.
FAME Studios was started in 1962 by Rick Hall, who has just received a Special Merit Award at the Grammys.