Mick Hayes’ love affair with Muscle Shoals began when he was a young man growing up in upstate New York, where he would browse record shops with wall to wall music from Ray Charles to Aretha Franklin to Duane Allman to Wilson Pickett and Solomon Burke. His latest collection of songs My Claim To FAME (out May 29, 2020) is how he rolled into town and plugged into FAME studio.
Muscle Shoals is a small city in the upper north-west corner of Alabama, creating a “triangle” with Memphis and Nashville, TN, which are two other music meccas. It’s a sleepy town with not a care in the world, but to make good music. Located on the main stretch in the small, sleepy city, on Avalon Ave, FAME Studio still looks and feels like it did back in their heyday from green carpet, paneled walls, and older equipment just waiting for someone like Mick.
“Hand Me Down 45s” has a late 50s-early 60s, sock-hop vibe. It should hit hipsters right in the feels with its old-school, soul shuffling and resurgence to the age of vinyl. There’s a nice nod to Ray Charles in the lyrics too.
The genius of My Claim to FAME is Hayes’ use of existing studio musicians who recorded on some of the greatest FAME classics. Bob Wray (Ray Charles, The Marshall Tucker Band) on bass guitar – Clayton Ivey (Bobby “Blue” Bland, Etta James, B.B. King) on electric piano and organ – Vinnie Ciesielski (Gladys Knight, Lyle Lovett) on trumpet and Flugelhorn – Brad Guin (Jason Isbell): baritone sax, tenor sax and flute, and Will McFarlane (Bonnie Raitt, Levon Helm) on rhythm guitar. Add to that the harmonies and backup singing vocals of Marie Lewey and Cindy Walker, aka The Muscle Shoals Singers, and you have the ingredients for a dee-licious Alabama musical feast.
Hayes himself covers the lead guitar and vocal duties on the album, and he also brought in Billy Bargetzi (The Temptations, The Four Tops, The O’Jays, Bobby Vinton) on trombone; and Ken Watters (Natalie Cole, W.C. Handy Jazz All-Stars) on trumpet for one of our favorite tracks, “Parking Lot Romance.” The song is a fun, Caribbean flavored blues tune again acknowledging the great Ray Charles in the lyrics.
Mick has a way of knowing what to play, and more importantly, what not to play throughout the record. His guitar work is crisp but not overpowering, and his vocals emit the raw emotion he must have felt recording in his personal music epicenter.
From the funky “Way Too Hard,” to the soul-blues, slow-drag of “My Heart,” you can hear every emotion Hayes can portray. It’s not genre-bending, rather genre-combining, as FAME was…well…famous for recording music that falls into nearly every category. My Claim To FAME recognizes them all and presents them in a way that’s sweet as molasses, and gritty as Gulf sand.
“Ramona” with its New Orleans aura is a stand-out track, featuring a clever interplay between the band members discussing the “dos and donts” of the title character. Hayes lets fly with an absolutely greasy slide-guitar solo reminiscent of the late, great Duane Allman’s beginnings in that very same space. Uber-heavy on the bass line, “Political Funk” brings up the topics of government, the media and more, urging us to just love one another more. Sly Stone and St. Paul would both be proud.
Mick’s vocals may be best on “No Second Chance.” The pure intensity and sentiment in this heart wrenching soul track raises Hayes to the pinnacle of vocal performance. All the grit leaves Hayes’ voice on the album closer, “Saddest Picture of Me.” This is pure Southern soul and is by far the longest track on the record. The backing vocals and nearly imperceptible slide guitar provided by McFarlane, cleverly underlying the guitar solo, make this song absolutely wonderful.
My Claim To FAME opens up with “Sweet To Me” – “A Steely Dan-Esque, highbrow soul song with story-line lyrics longing for home. Written at 30,000 feet somewhere between NY and LA, this song features nearly all of the great soul song elements of the 60s and 70s.” Truer words were never written. This marvelous love song epitomizes what it means to be home-sick, if even for a few hours. Even “Miri” approves (you’ll see her in the video).
Any fan of the FAME heyday will want to add My Claim To FAME to their collection. Its not a copy of the classics, rather a fresh, new take on the Muscle Shoals sound. As an acolyte of The Shoals, Mick Hayes has created something we truly need in this world – real music.
Artist: Mick Hayes
Title: My Claim to FAME
Label: Move the Needle Music
Release Date: May 29, 2020
Running Time: 34:15
*Feature image Lou Copping