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VOL. 131 | NO. 119 | Wednesday, June 15, 2016

American Studio Hit-Maker Moman Dies

By Bill Dries

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He found the old South Memphis movie theater that became Stax Records. He recorded more than 100 hit records for numerous record labels in a 10-year period in a nondescript building at Danny Thomas Boulevard and Chelsea Avenue.

And when he returned to Memphis in the mid-1980s, Chips Moman was touted as the savior to restore the city’s musical heritage.

Chips Moman, center, greets fans Tom Nagy, left, and Mack Farley at the unveiling of the American Studio historical marker in August 2014. American produced 120 hit records from 1965 to 1972. (Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

In the process, he became a cautionary tale about what happens when City Hall and the music business get together. And for years Moman didn’t feel that he got his due in the story of the city’s rich musical history.

Moman, a legendary music producer and hit-maker, died Monday, June 13, in a hospice in Georgia. He was 79 years old.

Moman returned to Memphis in August 2014 for the unveiling of a historical marker on the site where American Sound Studio once stood.

The North Memphis studio was where Moman presided over a veritable hit factory that produced such records as “Suspicious Minds” by Elvis Presley, “Son of a Preacher Man” by Dusty Springfield and “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond.

Moman settled in at American after parting ways with Stax Records founders Estelle Axton and Jim Stewart in the early 1960s. Moman found the recently closed Capitol movie theater in South Memphis as he scouted a new location for Stax, which at the time was located in Brunswick and known as Satellite Records.

At American, Moman was a record producer without a record label. Labels large and small came to him to make hits for them using a studio band and a team of songwriters – a formula that had been the model for Stax as well as Hi Records.

“It was honest,” said Bobby Emmons, who was part of the American house band known as The Memphis Boys. “Every song meant something.”

Moman was a serious taskmaster who insisted on calling the shots on whether a take was successful or needed to be tried again.

He didn’t back down, even when the artist was Elvis Presley. Presley’s 1969 sessions with Moman produced the critically acclaimed full-length album “From Elvis in Memphis,” as well as the non-album single “Suspicious Minds,” and marked the singer’s last sustained success before his death in 1977.

Moman left Memphis in the early 1970s and found success in the outlaw country sound of Nashville.

Then, in the mid-1980s, Memphis Mayor Dick Hackett’s administration offered Moman incentives to revive the city’s music business – including leasing him a recording studio in a Downtown firehouse that became known as Three Alarm Studios.

Moman tried first with a reunion of Sun legends Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. But the “Class of ‘55” wasn’t a hit, despite a lot of promotion even during the recording sessions.

The next attempt was a Ringo Starr project, which Starr ultimately sued Moman over to prevent its release.

Moman again left the city, only returning two years ago for the marker unveiling, which included members of his studio band in the audience and a personal thank-you for his efforts from Mayor A C Wharton.

“I finally got it,” Moman said of the recognition on the hot summer day in 2014 after lifting the cover on the marker where his studio once stood.

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