“Sugar Sugar”: Solid Gold from Muscle Shoals

Sugar Sugar” was inescapable in the summer of 1969, with Wilson Pickett and even The Wailers (with Bob Marley singing lead) recording their own versions.  Muscling in on the action also were the studio musicians behind the hits being recorded in the late 60s at Rick Hall’s Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama – The Fame Gang – who put together a (near) instrumental version for their one and only outing, Solid Gold from Muscle Shoals:

“Sugar Sugar”     The Fame Gang     1969

Meet the Band

Freeman Brown — drums

Jesse Boyce — bass

Junior Lowe — guitar

Clayton Ivey — piano & organ

Harrison Calloway — trumpet

Aaron Varnell — tenor & alto sax

Harvey Thompson — tenor sax

Ronnie Eades — baritone sax

Mickey Buckins — producer/arranger

Solid Gold - Fame Gang LP

That’s right, as the sticker indicates, there is an “expanded” version of this 1969 album that includes four additional tracks:  “Soul Feud“; “Grits and Gravy“; “Twangin’ My Thang“; and “Turn the Chicken Loose.”   Two of these non-LP tracks — “Soul Feud” backed with  “Grits and Gravy” — were issued as a 45 in August 1969 on the Fame label.

Grits & Gravy 45

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                         The Fame Studio Sidemen – Waves of Musicians

The Fame Gang, as it turns out, were the third “rhythm section” in Fame Studio’s long and illustrious history.  It was Arthur Alexander’s big 1961 hit, “You Better Move On,” that earned enough money to finance the building of Fame’s bricks-and-mortar studio, where Rick Hall assembled his first full-time session players, a group that included Norbert Putnam, Spooner Oldham, Terry Thompson, and David Briggs, among others.  The next rhythm section, easily the most renowned of the four, comprised Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, Roger Hawkins, Barry Beckett, and Junior Lowe (and sometimes Duane Allman) and was the backing group for Aretha Franklin on her groundbreaking “I Never Loved a Man” session in 1967.  However, on March 20, 1969, Johnson, Hood, Beckett, and Hawkins formally announced to Rick Hall their intention to open the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in nearby Sheffield.  Hall immediately assembled another top-flight team of talent and then – coincidentally or not – allowed them to put out this full-length release.  More history on the Fame Studio rhythm section musicians can be found at this link.

“Ranjana”: West Meets East

Chet Atkins‘ 1967 RCA album, It’s a Guitar World, finds him on the back cover under the banner, “The International Guitar of Chet Atkins”:

Chet Atkins LP - back cover

Producer Bob Ferguson writes the following about “Ranjana” in the album’s liner notes:

[“Ranjana” and “January in Bombay”] are India’s attendants at this musical U.N. feast.   Harihar Rao, an outstanding musician from India, stopped by Nashville en route to Bombay.  Nothing would do but that he and Chet combine talents — Rao on the sitar and the gopi, a kind of drum with a pull string on it (like a miniature “washtub” bass).  On the first selection [“January in Bombay”] the sitar learned an American folk tune; on the second Chet’s guitar learned Hindi.  The sympathetic harmonics and quarter-tone scale of the sitar are unusual to the Western ear, but they provide a cosmopolitan setting for Chet’s own sensitive finger style.

“Ranjana”     Chet Atkins & Harihar Rao     1966

“Ranjana” – along with the rest of the album – was recorded September 6, 1966 at RCA Victor’s “Nashville Sound” Studios.

Guitar World Chet Atkins LP

Streaming audio for “January in Bombay — the other track to feature Chet Atkins accompanied by Harihar Rao.