Fame Northern Soul .

Label: Kent.

Mention Southern Soul, and there are certain record labels that spring to mind, including Stax, Hi Records and Fame Records. It’s no exaggeration to say that these three labels are synonymous with Southern Soul. Together they released some of the greatest music in the history of Southern Soul. 

Indeed, the artists who walked through the doors of Stax, Hi and Fame Records reads like a who’s who of Southern Soul. However, for far too long, Southern Soul has been overlooked, and  instead, record labels have focused on labels like Philadelphia International Records and Motown. Thankfully, that is no longer the case as reissue labels like Kent Soul, a subsidiary of Ace Records, are releasing a series of lovingly compiled compilations of music released by Fame Records. The most recent compilation is Fame Northern Soul.

The story starts during late fifties when Rick Hall, Tom Stafford and Billy Sherill founded a record label, and built their first studio above the City Drug Store in Florence, Alabama. However, by the early sixties, this nascent partnership would split-up, resulting in Tom Stafford and Rick Hall needing a new studio. They decided to move to what had been a tobacco warehouse in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. As if by magic, Rick Hall soon recorded what would be his first hit single, Arthur Alexander’s You Better Move On. Wisely, he decided to invest the profit in a better studio, and moved to their current location Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The first hit single Rick Hall recorded in his new studio was Jimmy Hughes’ Steal Away. Little did Rick Hall know it back then, but soon his new studio would see artists coming from far and wide to record at Fame.

After Rick’ Halls success with Jimmy Hughes, word got out that Fame was the place to go to record a new single or album. Quickly, everyone from Tommy Roe to The Tams, and from Joe Tex, Joe Simon, George Jackson and Clyde McPhatter right through to Irma Thomas, Etta James and Mitty Collier. Even Aretha Franklin recorded at Muscle Shoals. Indeed, it was at Muscle Shoals that Jerry Wexler brought Aretha Franklin, to record her 1967 album I Never Loved A Man the Way I Loved You. However, why did all these artists choose to head to Muscle Shoals to Fame?

Part of the reason was the session musicians that worked with Rick Hall. This included the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and Muscle Shoals Horns. They were some of the hottest and tightest musicians of that era. This included drummer Rodger Hawkins, bassist David Hood, guitarist Jimmy Johnson and keyboardist Barry Beckett. When they recorded together, they were one of the finest backing bands ever. Between 1961 and 1969, when they departed from Fame to found the rival studio Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. However, for eight years, they graced numerous hit singles and album. This includes some of the tracks on Fame Northern Soul.

The twenty-four tracks on Fame Northern Soul showcases just how versatile the  songwriters and musicians at Fame were. While their speciality was Southern Soul, part of their recipe for success was being able to play all types of music at the Muscle Shoals studios. They also were able to follow and replicate the soul trends of Motown soul factory and the innovative sounds of Stax.  Fame Northern Soul is a showcase for the versatility of the musicians and producers at Fame Records.

Opening Fame Northern Soul opens with James Barnett’s Keep On Talking which is  the first of series  gritty uptempo Southern  Soul club classics. It’s joined by  Clarence Carter’s Looking For A Fox, Arthur Conley’s ‘I Can’t Stop (No, No, No) and Linda Carr’s Everytime. It’s four to the floor all the way on this quartet of dancefloor fillers that proved popular on the UK Northern Soul scene.

The  Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section were also able to replicate the big city soul sounds of New York and Los Angeles. Examples of this include Jimmy Hughes’ I’m Getting Better’ and June Conquest’s Almost Persuaded  which are welcome additions to Fame Northern Soul.

As the sixties gave way to the seventies, the success continued at Fame, and the productions took on a much more polished sound. Proof of that is George Soulé’s Midnight Affair’ and Spencer Wiggins’ I’m At The Breaking Point which was another dancefloor filler and favourite of DJs and dancers.

Then there’s the pulsating rhythms on Billy and Clyde on A World Of My Own and George Jackson’s  It’s Not Safe To Mess On Me. Another standout track is Ben and Spence’s atmospheric and broody Stone Loser. It’s joined by Baby Come Back’ a welcome contribution by sixties soul group  Bobby Moore and The Rhythm Aces.  However, two other highlights include I Can’t Stop (No, No, No) by Arthur Conley and Otis Clay’s remake of  Jimmy Hughes’ I’m Qualified. Ralph “Soul” Jackson’s covered Jimmy Hughes You Really Know How To Hurt A Guy, and does so beautifully. Very different is  Dan Brantley’s stomper The Door To My Heart while Marjorie Ingram  who contributes In The Heat Of Love. Closing Fame Northern Soul is Prince Phillip’s Love Is A Wonderful Thing which epitomises everything that is good about Southern Soul.

The twenty-four tracks on Fame Northern Soul are sure to appeal to fans of both Southern and Northern Soul. It’s quality all the way on Fame Northern Soul, which is a lovingly compiled compilation and a reminder of one of the great Southern Soul labels at the peak of its considerable powers. It released some of the greatest music in the history of Southern Soul, but some of the music recorded at Avalon Avenue in Muscle Shoals, later became popular on the UK’s Northern Soul scene and is documented on Kent’s new compilation  Fame Northern Soul.

Fame Northern Soul.

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