Monday, November 07, 2005

Willie Hightower and the (Rick) Hall of FAME

Willie Hightower - Walk a Mile in My Shoes

Some time ago I got to see a 1970 Swedish(?) documentary about the legendary FAME studio. It's a great slice-of-life film, in which Rick Hall and several members of the Fame Gang (the incarnation of which recorded the "Solid Gold From Muscle Shoals" album) are interviewed.

This cover of Joe South's classic song was being recorded at the time the documentary was made, and therefore the documentary is a priceless peek at how the classic soul records were made. It's clear that Rick Hall's production style was very hands-on. In one scene that I really like Hall is talking to the horn section about what he's looking for from them. He starts off by calling the song a "heavy" piece and then saying that the horns should stay away from high notes ("because people will think it's a dance record," he said). Harrison Calloway and the rest of the horn players cooked up a nice, baritone sax and trombone-bent chart that I think is one of my favorites. (I love old soul records in part because of the great horn charts they often had.)

The documentary is great fun and this song is a great addition to the list of great soul covers of rock songs(unfortunately, despite Hall's stated intention in the film, it did not overtake South's original, instead settling as a Top 30 R&B hit).

One more note about the documentary. There's a scene where producer Sonny Limbo talked about a forthcoming Bobbie Gentry session that Hall was to produce. He hoped to pitch Etta James' classic "I'd Rather Go Blind" (which was recorded at Fame) but, knowing that Gentry was more pop-oriented, he recorded a more poppier version. The documentary shows a small portion of the run-through of the demo. At the time the lead vocal and accompaniment had been recorded (strangely enough, the trumpet line that appears on the recording is extremely similar to the horn chart used in "Walk a Mile"); we are treated to seeing the background vocals overdubbed. To my knowledge, Gentry did not record the song, so that little piece of demo is my personal Holy Grail.

1 comment:

Agent45 said...

Whoa! Is this documentary widely available? I MUST see this! Great blog, too. I'll have you linked to mine before you know it!