Rick Hall’s Fame Records was a major bastion of the Southern soul sound. It grew out of the studio that Hall eventually established at East Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. He’d previously used premises down the road in Florence, Alabama – hence the business’ name – Florence Alabama Musical Enterprises … FAME. Hall’s studio soon achieved its own fame with recordings on artists like Arthur Alexander but most of their early output was leased out to various labels like Dot. In 1964 Hall took the plunge himself and created his own label – called, naturally, FAME.
The new label hit the ground running with Jimmy Hughes’ soul perennial ‘Steal Away’ which was a #2 R&B hit and a Billboard Top 20 chart rider… quite an achievement for a small town, small scale label. Over the next four years Hall and his label enjoyed more success but, as importantly, the studio became a magnet for a whole host of artists (across genres) who wanted their work to have that very special Muscle Shoals garnish.
Over the years, Ace/Kent has lovingly reissued a plethora of FAME recordings – single artist sets, compilations and collections celebrating the studio musicians and the producers and writers associated with FAME.
This latest 24 track compilation is an expertly curated overview of the best of FAME records and logically starts with Jimmy Hughes’ ‘Steal Away’. Amongst the other big names on the album are Arthur Conley and Clarence Carter though soul collectors will be familiar with almost all the other contributors – people like Otis Clay, Art Freeman, George Jackson and June Conquest.
It’s no surprise that the sound is 24 carat Southern soul al the way… well almost. The album throws up a few sonic surprises like ‘Wish You Didn’t Have To Go’ credited to Spooner and the Spoons (essentially Spooner Oldham and the studio band) and James Barnett’s ‘Keep On Talking’ which are both, unusually (for Muscle Shoals), “uptown”. Indeed, that latter clearly uses the Impressions as its reference point … little wonder it was a big Northern soul tune.
Most proper soul collectors will have most of the cuts here already. Indeed this collection was originally released as a Kent 2 LP vinyl collection (still available), but what a powerful snapshot of FAME this round up offers and if you’re looking for a handy primer to appreciate the sound of Muscle Shoals, this is the one!