The explosion of popular music in the 1960s and 1970s remains one of the most productive periods of American creativity.
While the Beatles were storming the globe with their American-influenced brand of Rock ‘N’ Roll, an incredible story was developing in a small corner of northwest Alabama called Muscle Shoals.
A cast of musicians and songwriters working from independent studios were producing hit records at an unheard of pace.
At the head of the Muscle Shoals lineup was Rick Hall, a talented musician who had developed enviable skills as a studio engineer and producer. After limited success on his own, Hall began partnering with Atlantic Records, and the “Muscle Shoals Sound” was soon circling the world with chart-toppers from the likes of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Etta James and The Osmonds.
Hall’s motivating story is chronicled in a new autobiography, “The Man from Muscle Shoals: My Journey from Shame to Fame,” as told to Muscle Shoals-based writer Terry Pace. More than anything, it’s inspirational in understanding how gritty determination and faith overcome the worst circumstances in life.
Long before the hit songs were made, Hall’s story had every reason never to happen. Born into rural poverty in the Freedom Hills area that stretches to the Mississippi border, his life was a struggle that would have crumpled most people.
At 403 pages, “The Man from Muscle Shoals” reads like a carefully crafted novel as Hall claws his way to heralded success. The accounts of his struggles in the music industry are far from sugar-coated.
Readers will find the honesty and saltiness of Hall’s story engrossing as he lands what turned out to be a groundbreaking deal with Atlantic Records and fires up the careers of Franklin and Pickett, and signs legendary guitarist Duane Allman as one of the studio players.
Yet, as success pours in, things go wrong in a hostile battle with Franklin’s husband and a split with Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler. The end of that career chapter finds Hall on a new adventure as he builds an even larger hit catalog with the arrival of the Osmonds, Mac Davis and Paul Anka. Hall eventually makes a strong push into the music publishing business.
For music fans, “The Man from Muscle Shoals” is an honest, gripping narrative of how Rick Hall made Alabama world-famous for its rich musical heritage.
For everyone, it is a must-read adventure of a native son of Alabama who went from the backwoods to stardom by never giving in to adversity.
Palmer is the editor of The Cullman Times in Cullman, Alabama.