Rick Hall, the white fiddler who became an unlikely force in soul music and made the small town of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, an international destination, has died at age 85, his family said Wednesday.
Hall, who had been suffering from cancer, died Tuesday at his home near the legendary Fame Recording Studios he built in the riverside town of 14,000.
"We hope the band in Heaven is ready. If not, there's going to be a problem," his family said in a statement.
Hall turned his studio in a go-to hub for soul music, with distinctive horns and a steady rhythm section complementing the vocal powers of visiting singers.
The studio had its breakthrough when Hall licensed Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman," recorded nearby, and labels soon were sending star talent to Fame to make their albums.
The studio recorded Etta James, Otis Redding, Little Richard, Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin, who recorded her early hits "I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Love You") and "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" at Fame.
But the sessions with Franklin ended in disaster when Hall got into a fistfight with the diva's then husband, Ted White, who demanded that the studio owner fire musicians for allegedly harassing his wife.
Atlantic Records pulled Franklin out and she recorded her classic "Respect" in New York, although she brought in musicians from Muscle Shoals.
Hall often marveled at how Muscle Shoals became internationally known. Musicians under Hall in 1969 founded the separate Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, where The Rolling Stones recorded parts of their acclaimed "Sticky Fingers" album.
Hall's prominence in African American music was unexpected in Alabama, one of the most conservative US states whose governor George Wallace had vowed to preserve segregation forever.
"I'm one of them. I feel black," Hall later told television host Larry King.
"I can tell you that immediately when black people are around me they feel very good about me," he said.
Hall had grown up in grinding poverty, with his father working in a sawmill and his mother leaving to help run a brothel.
Hall, after quitting a factory job, became a fiddler and found his passion for country music, gradually earning a living as a songwriter and taking over the local studio.
He said that he found a natural connection between country and soul music, even though the genres were dominated by different races.
"Both country and soul songs often dealt with growing up dirt poor, trying to make life better, hopeless love," he told the country magazine No Depression.