FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) first came into being in the late 50s as a music publishing company founded by Rick Hall, Billy Sherrill and Tom Stafford, its first location being a tiny studio above a drug store owned by Stafford's family in Florence, Alabama. In this obscure corner of Alabama, local musicians and songwriters were used to put together demos for songs which ended up being recorded by established artists in Nashville. In the early 60s a split occured, and Rick Hall was left with the name, with which he founded a new studio in the nearby city of Muscle Shoals.
In 1962 a recording was made which laid the foundation (both stylistically and financially) for the Fame recording empire. Hall recorded R&B artist Arthur Alexander singing his own composition "You Better Move On", and when released on Dot Records it became a national pop hit. The financial rewards allowed Hall to build a new, better studio, where he gathered together the musicians from the Florence days and began recorded local acts. It wasn't long before artists were being brought in from further afield to record at Fame, as its reputation grew. Fame's real breakthrough was in 1964 with Jimmy Hughes' "Steal Away", a Southern soul classic which charted as a #17 national pop hit. Fame became known for its high quality R&B output, and produced hits for Joe Simon, Joe Tex, Wilson Pickett, James & Bobby Purify, Arthur Conley, Clarence Carter, Laura Lee, Aretha Franklin and Etta James. Most recordings from this period featured the house rhythm section of keyboardist Spooner Oldham, guitarist Jimmy Johnson, bassist Junior Lowe and drummer Roger Hawkins. A vast proportion of the songs recorded there were written by in-house songwriters, the most prolific of them being Dan Penn.
Penn and then Spooner Oldham both left Fame for Memphis in '66 and '67 respectively to work at Chips Moman's American Sound studio. In 1969 the whole rhythm section (then featuring keyboardist Barry Beckett and bassist David Hood) left to form a rival studio which they named Muscle Shoals Sound. As the 70s dawned Rick Hall began branching out into more pop and country directions, and though he saw much success in subsequent decades, the studio will always be most closely associated with the R&B and soul music of the 60s.
Many of the hits that came out of Muscle Shoals remain today well-known soul classics, such as Aretha Franklin's "I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)" and Wilson Pickett's "Land Of 1,000 Dances". However between these massive hits there were many now-forgotten minor hits, and a myriad of recordings that never made it. Many of these were released as singles and sunk without a trace, but the back catalogue of demos and recordings that never saw release is staggering considering their quality. In recent years more and more of these songs have been resurfacing on CD compilations, most notably on the Kent and Ace re-issue labels.
What I have for you here is a compilation of rare gems from the Fame studios. All of these tracks come from the Kent and Ace CDs. I have hand picked twenty-six tracks which you will struggle to find elsewhere. Some of these artists apparently only ever released or even recorded a few songs, and so will only ever be found on various artists compilations, and in some cases information about them is scarce to non-exsistant. Some are better known, but the songs included are ones that have not been put out on any of their own albums or compilations.
I have included more detailed notes on the songs as part of the album.