Music » Livewire

Chips Moman

Wednesday, March 16, at the Harkness Chapel on the Case Western Reserve University campus.

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Chips Moman got his rock and roll baptism early, playing guitar for obscure Sun Records artist Warren Smith in the late '50s -- that's probably him driving Smith's "Ubangi Stomp," one of the less politically correct Sun singles. The Georgia native's star rose quickly: Moman's first notable production work was for Carla Thomas after her 1961 hit "Gee Whiz," which put Stax Records on the map. Moman helped start Stax with founders Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton. He discovered the old movie theater on Memphis's East McLemore Avenue, where he helped develop the legendary label with a roster including Rufus Thomas, William Bell, and the Mar-Keys.

After a falling-out over Booker T. and the MGs, Moman split from Stax to found soul-music powerhouse American Studios. There, his range of clients included Neil Diamond, Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, and the Box Tops. Moman also found time to co-write James Carr's "Dark End of the Street" and Aretha Franklin's "Do Right Woman" with talented white soulman Dan Penn.

In 1969, he cut "Suspicious Minds" with Elvis Presley; other productions include both Highwaymen albums and songs spanning from Sandy Posey's "Born a Woman" to Willie Nelson's "Pancho and Lefty." In the '70s, Moman moved to Nashville to help forge the outlaw movement, co-writing "Luckenbach, Texas," a No. 1 hit for Waylon Jennings. You could call him the father of Americana.

In December 2001, Moman told a Johnny Cash fanzine that he plans to issue previously unreleased, later-year recordings by Carl Perkins and Billy Lee Riley (a Johnny Cash album he produced remains in the vaults). This Wednesday, he'll be speaking at Case Western Reserve's Harkness Chapel as part of the Rock Hall's "From Songwriters to Soundmen" series. Don't miss the chance to meet this living legend in the flesh.

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