by Ted Olson
The Folk Box is the kind of album that changes lives—I know this because it changed mine, assuredly for the better. And over the years I have heard that The Folk Box played an important formative role in the lives of many other people.
About the time I was learning to stay upright on a bicycle (1967), I discovered my parents’ record collection, which contained a host of titles—classical and jazz, mostly—that held little appeal to a six-year-old. But one album captured my interest—a thick box set with an appealingly rustic, unpretentious front cover. Somehow that cover spoke to me, in a rough yet reassuring voice, saying “Listen here.” And so I obliged, spinning one and then all of its four LPs on the family turntable. From the speakers wafted voices and songs that were at the same time familiar and mysterious; it was as if I was being summoned to hear news from a world I needed to know about, even if I was too young to fully comprehend that world. The ultimate evidence that that album — The Folk Box — had gotten through to me: I wanted to hear more—more of humanity’s other folk music.
Tonight at 10 PM EST / PST, the ongoing PBS documentary series Independent Lens offers the network premiere of Muscle Shoals, which shines a spotlight on the Alabama city where thousands of classic songs have been recorded over the years, many of them at FAME Studios, founded by Rick Hall. We had an opportunity to chat with Hall, who discussed the founding of his studio, hit on some of his career highlights, and talked about working with Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and even the Osmonds.
Rhino: How did you find your way into having a studio in Muscle Shoals in the first place?
Rich Hall: Well, I quit my job at Reynolds Metal making tin foil, built (FAME Studios), set it up, and said, “Let’s do it!” [Laughs.] That’s what happened.
Was that something you’d always had an eye on doing, or was it just on a whim?
No, I had played music all my life. I’d been playing since I was six years old, me and my sister sang in gospel quartets, and all that kind of crap, so I had a lot of experience. I was in the high school band, and we won first place in the state of Alabama for a string-band contest, so I’d been on radio stations and worked gigs for many years. So I was familiar with what I wanted to do. And I was a songwriter and a singer – I had my own band called the Fairlanes – but when the crunch time came in the 1960s, I quit making country music because I was writing country songs and having a lot of success with ‘em. I had hits with George Jones, Brenda Lee, Roy Orbison, and people like that, so I’d made a little money at it, and I just decided to do it full-time.
This Saturday is Record Store Day, but it’s highly unlikely that this information is any sort of revelation to you, since we suspect that most folks who’d frequent a record label’s website are the same sort of folks who’d have circled the third Saturday of April on their calendar the day they bought their calendar. But, hey, just in case you’re one of the few who’ve been steered this way by a friend and have no clue what we’re on about, we’ll go ahead and offer a few paragraphs from the event’s official website – and, yes, it is www.recordstoreday.com – to fill you in:
Record Store Day was conceived in 2007 at a gathering of independent record store owners and employees as a way to celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture surrounding nearly 1000 independently owned record stores in the US and thousands of similar stores internationally. There are Record Store Day participating stores on every continent except Antarctica.
This is a day for the people who make up the world of the record store—the staff, the customers, and the artists—to come together and celebrate the unique culture of a record store and the special role these independently owned stores play in their communities.
Special vinyl and CD releases and various promotional products are made exclusively for the day and hundreds of artists in the United States and in various countries across the globe make special appearances and performances. Festivities include performances, cook-outs, body painting, meet & greets with artists, parades, DJs spinning records, and on and on.
New this week in the iTunes Rhino Catalog Room:
Graham Central Station, Graham Central Station (1974) / Release Yourself (1974): Man, could there possibly be a better opening track to Graham Central Station’s self-titled debut? When you consider how long the band’s fans have been waiting for this material to get the digital-release treatment, it’s almost a little too apropos to hear them singing, “We’ve been waiting for so long / Waiting to play for you some of our songs.” Well, now’s their chance, as both of the band’s 1974 albums, Graham Central Station and Release Yourself, have joined Rhino’s digital catalog, giving you new access to such classic tracks as “It Ain’t No Fun to Me,” “Feel the Need,” “Release Yourself,” and “Can You Handle It?” Oh, but that’s far from all the funk we’ve got for you this week…
Larry Graham & Graham Central Station, My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me (1978) / Star Walk (1979): We’re jumping ahead a bit with this next batch, but we’ve also added the first albums to be released after Graham Central Station frontman Larry Graham decided it was time to put his own name in front of the band’s…and why not, really? Given his history as one of the key members of Sly and the Family Stone, he’d certainly earned the right. The title tracks from both of these albums scored some airplay, as did the singles “Sneaky Freak,” “(You’re a) Foxy Lady,” and “Is It Love?” There’s plenty of outstanding bass-slapping going on in these grooves…and yet, if you can believe it, there’s still even more funk to come!
Rhino’s rolling out a box set today that collects Black Sabbath’s studio albums from 1970 through 1978... and if that announcement is giving you a strange sense of déjà vu, allow us to freely acknowledge that, yes, we have done this before. But it’s been awhile since we released the so-called Black Box, which collected the band’s output from the same time frame, and that was also a set designed to appeal to both to fans and collectors. This set, meanwhile, is more for those who want the kick-ass music but don’t necessarily care about the kick-ass packaging offered by the previous box. (Also, the other one’s out of print, so if you missed out on that one, this is the only way to get all of the albums in one handy-dandy package.)