One of the most prolific session guitarists in rock history who in between his own singles played on a laundry list of classic hits by some of the biggest artists of all-time, yet even that was overshadowed by his decades long work as an arranger in the studio making him among the most important behind the scenes figures in rock ‘n’ roll’s first four decades.

René Hall was born in Louisiana in 1912 and was a multi-instrumentalist by his teens, getting his start in the famed jazz band of New Orleans legend Papa Celestin in the late 1920’s. In 1933 he made his debut on record playing either bass or banjo as a member of the New Orleans Rhythm Boys with pianist Joseph Robichaux, considered among the hottest tracks of that style ever laid down.

In the late 1930’s and early 40’s Hall was a member of trombonist Ernie Fields highly acclaimed band before joining influential jazz pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines in the mid-1940’s, and getting his start as an arranger including doing some sides for Dinah Washington. In 1949 Hall started his own band which included some of the best jazz sidemen in the business including saxophonists Buddy Tate, formerly of Count Basie’s band, and Bobby Green and drummer Bobby Donaldson. Signed to Jubilee Records for a lone session the music they cut wasn’t jazz however, but rock ‘n’ roll and they got a regional hit with their first single.

From there he bounced to some major labels, including Decca and RCA, before shifting his primary role in music back to supporting others, specifically Billy Ward’s Dominoes, one of the top rock vocal groups of the early 1950’s, adding his guitar to their recordings and leading the touring band and writing the arrangements on the road. After a number of years in this role Hall looked to get back into studio work and signed with Specialty Records where he backed Little Richard, Larry Williams in addition to cutting his own rock instrumental singles. On the side he also took part in sessions for Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran and a host of others in Los Angeles, even giving his old employer Ernie Fields an unlikely rock hit with a version of the standard “In The Mood” which Hall had recorded with fellow New Orleans transplants, drummer Earl Palmer and saxophonist Plas Johnson as well as pianist Ernie Freeman. When they didn’t want to issue it under their own names and tour behind it Hall gave it to Fields who then did join them in the studio for a follow up hit.

Meanwhile Hall was hired by Sam Cooke as his personal arranger in addition to playing guitar or bass on all of his records as well as behind artists on Sam’s own SAR label which including such figures as Johnnie Taylor, The Valentinos and The Simms Twins. Hall’s dramatic arrangement for the protest anthem “A Change Is Gonna Come”, which served as Cooke’s epitaph when the singer was killed in late 1964, showed the breadth of his talents at a time when most rock arrangements were of a much smaller scale. Following Cooke’s death Hall took a brief step back and wrote an instructional book for rock guitar before getting back into studio work full time.

Hall was a virtual one-man dynasty on the West Coast from the mid-1950’s through the early 1970’s, organizing such studio concoctions as B. Bumble & The Stingers massive hit “Nut Rocker”, surf-rock group The Marketts (“Surfer’s Stomp”) and The Routers of “Let’s Go” fame, all of which actually featured Hall, Palmer and Johnson as their mainstays in the studio but would then be promoted by young white groups who’d play the songs on tour.

by the late 1960’s he played less and concentrated mainly on arranging for the likes of Ray Charles, Etta James, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, The Impressions, Big Mama Thornton, Jackie DeShannon, Lowell Fulson, Bobby Womack, and Marvin Gaye. In the late 1970’s he came full circle when he arranged the Motown singles of Ernie Fields Jr., the son of the bandleader he played with back in the 1930’s.

Few people played as vital a part in rock’s rise and continued expansion as Hall who was still working steadily up to his death from a heart attack at the age of 75 in 1988.

RENÉ HALL DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Jubilee 5015; October, 1949)
For a bunch of ex-jazz musicians these guys have a pretty firm grasp of rock ‘n’ roll and are fully committed to creating a nice groove with Hall’s guitar taking center stage early before handing off to others to carry it through to the end. (6)

(Jubilee 5015; October, 1949)
A showcase for saxophonist Buddy Tate whose jazz background shows itself in the arrangement at times, but his own playing is forceful and increasingly frantic which makes you less skeptical of their true feelings about it all as you get caught up in the enthusiasm they exhibit. (4)

(Jubilee 5020; January, 1950)
Highlighted by some stellar playing from Hall who mixes up his approach nicely throughout, he nevertheless winds up carrying a little too much of the weight of the arrangement with his guitar rather than hand-off some of the responsibility to the other instruments. (6)

(Jubilee 5020; January, 1950)
Another song by Hall to spotlight moonlighting jazz saxophonist Buddy Tate, who also wrote it, this has the right general idea and he sounds reasonably comfortable with the cruder rock requirements but it’s hardly anything to get excited about either. (4)

(Decca 48217; June, 1951)
Though Courtland Carter’s laid-back delivery doesn’t quite do the declarative statement about the music justice, Hall’s contributions on guitar are first rate, playing with a casual authority on both fills and in the solo, confirming the allure of the topic in unambiguous fashion. (5)