Chips Moman was a songwriter, guitarist, and record producer, perhaps most noted for his work at American Sound Studio in Memphis in the 60's and 70's.
Lincoln Wayne "Chips" Moman was born in LaGrange, Georgia in 1937. He learned to play guitar as a young child. At age 14 Moman hitchhiked his way to Memphis to work as a painter with a cousin who was working there in that trade. One day while playing his guitar in a Memphis drug store, he was approached by Warren Smith, at the time a rockabilly recording artist with Sun Records in Memphis. The next thing Moman knew he was playing backup guitar for Smith as well as emerging rock-and-roll artists Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison at a club not far from Memphis. Moman quickly developed a reputation locally as a very good guitarist. This led to his association with Johnny and Dorsey Burnette, local Memphis recording artists who brought him to the soon-to-be legendary Gold Star Recording Studio in Hollywood. There Moman studied the work of sound engineer Stan Ross. Moman brought what he learned back to Memphis.
In 1958 Moman was invited to come to a small garage to engineer the sound for a recording that was to be made by local entrepreneur Jim Stewart of Satellite Records. He and Stewart found that they worked well together and the two teamed with Stewart's sister, Estelle Axton. They found an old movie theatre on McLemore Avenue in Memphis where the rent was very cheap, and converted it into a recording studio. At Satellite Records they began to build a stable of talent that included local disc jockey/recording artist Rufus Thomas, his daughter Carla Thomas, and William Bell. (Carla and Rufus would go on to become the first father and daughter to place records separately in the top ten with Gee Whiz [Look At His Eyes] and Walking The Dog, respectively). Around this time Moman wrote and arranged Last Night by the Mar-Keys. Satellite went on to become Stax Records (named for Jim STewart and Estelle AXton) and produce many hits by artists such as Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Booker T. & the M.G.'s. Moman had a falling out with Stewart, primarily over profits, credit, ownership and related issues. Moman settled for several thousand dollars but the bitter feelings on both sides would last for decades; he had certainly had a pivotal role in getting the company established. He used the money for his next venture.
With his partner Don Crews, Chips Moman set up American Sound Studio at 827 Thomas Street. He survived by writing some songs, producing some sessions, and playing session guitar, often at the recording studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama where he played on recordings made by the likes of Wilson Picket and Aretha Franklin. Chips worked with musician/songwriters Spooner Oldham, Dan Penn and Tommy Cogbill. His break came his way in 1965 when a local group of young Memphis musicians known as the Gentrys recorded Keep On Dancing at American Sound Studio and it was released on the MGM label. The song went top ten, sold over a million records, and produced some much-needed income for the struggling studio. Moman needed to hire a secretary and he received another break when the woman he hired was a fledgling local recording artist named Sandy Posey. Moman helped her to develop as a singer and the result was Posey's hit in the summer of 1966 Born A Woman. Chips now found himself in great demand as a record producer. Posey went on to record many songs, most notably Single Girl and I Take It Back.
American Sound Studio developed an excellent in-house band that came to be known as the American band, or at various times as The Memphis Boys (in Nashville) and as the 827 Thomas Street Band (in Memphis). Groups showed up wanting to record, and the studio took off, producing over 120 chart hits from 1967 to 1972. Moman took it in stride. Sensitive and not one who was prone to self-promotion, he worked very hard and produced outstanding results, but probably never did receive proper recognition for the brilliance of his work. When Paul Revere and the Raiders came through Memphis in 1967 to perform, lead singer Mark Lindsay introduced their warm-up act, Merrilee Rush, to Chips Moman. Moman and Cogbill produced her recording of Angel Of The Morning at American Sound Studio. It was a million-seller, a top ten hit, and Rush went on to receive a Grammy nomination. The hits were certainly there for American -- Hooked On A Feeling by B.J. Thomas, Sweet Caroline (Good Times Never Seemed So Good) by Neil Diamond, I Gotcha by Joe Tex, Son-Of-A Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield, The Letter by the Box Tops, Fly Me To The Moon by Bobby Womack, and even Suspicious Minds by none other than Elvis Presley, his final #1 hit. During this time Moman started his own label, Chips Records, and recorded artists such as emerging star Ronnie Milsap. Bobby Womack worked as a producer and session musician at the studio.
After working long hours for years, and tired of a lack of recognition, Moman decided it was time to close the studio and move on. In 1972 he moved to Atlanta, where he set up a new recording studio. A number of members of the American band went with him, but it did not last long. He would occasionally visit old friends in Nashville and on one of his trips he caught up with B.J. Thomas, by now a well-established recording artist. Moman wrote a song for him titled (Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song. Thomas had a huge hit with it, taking it to #1, and winning Record of the Year. Moman stayed in Nashville over the next decade or so, writing and producing hits for country artists that included Tammy Wynette, Ronnie Millsap, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings.
Meanwhile in Memphis, Stax had folded in 1975, Elvis Presley had passed away in 1977, and the impact of the music industry there was dwindling. Some local civic leaders offered Chips Moman incentives to return to the city in 1985 to revive the music business there, establishing a studio location for him and providing capital. He rounded up Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Roy Orbison and produced their Class of '55 album. Another venture with former Beatle Ringo Starr did not turn out so well, and Moman decided to return to Nashville. He resumed his work there for another decade, then returned to his hometown in La Grange, Georgia and went into semi-retirement.
The Memphis Boys, the house band at American, gained recognition when they were inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. They had provided the music on dozens of hit songs from their era, including Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond, Angel Of The Morning by Merrilee Rush, Skinny Legs And All by Joe Tex, Cry Like A Baby by the Box Tops, Hooked On A Feeling by B.J. Thomas, Goodtime Charlie's Got the Blues by Danny O'Keefe, and In the Ghetto, Suspicious Minds, Don't Cry Daddy, and Kentucky Rain by Elvis Presley.
American Sound Studio was demolished in 1990 and is now the site of a parking lot and a beauty shop. The American band still appears on the music scene on occasion. It can be argued that Chips Moman did not receive the recognition he deserved for his many contributions to popular music. In later years Moman remained active in the music business, but suffered from lung disease. He died on the day after his 79th birthday, June 13, 2016, in the same town where he had been born, LaGrange, Georgia.
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