Chips Moman, Grammy-Winning Songwriter And Producer, Dies

Jun 15, 2016
Originally published on June 15, 2016 7:58 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Now we are going to remember a guy whose fingerprints are on some of the biggest songs in early rock and R&B history. Producer and songwriter Chips Moman died Monday at the age of 79. He worked with musicians including Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Elvis Presley. NPR's Andrew Limbong reports.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: His full name was Lincoln Wayne Moman. The story goes he earned the nickname Chips because he was good at poker. His chops at making hits, though - those are on the record.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE GHETTO")

ELVIS PRESLEY: (Singing) On a cold and gray Chicago morning, a poor little baby child is born in the ghetto.

LIMBONG: He brought Elvis into his Memphis-based American Studios in 1969 and chiseled away at the rock bits, bringing out a more soulful side of the singer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUSPICIOUS MINDS")

PRESLEY: (Singing) We're caught in a trap. I can't walk out.

LIMBONG: Moman persuaded Elvis to record "Suspicious Minds," which became Presley's seventh and final No. 1 hit single. Chips Moman brought southern DNA to his work as a producer.

Born in Georgia, he moved to Memphis as a teen, performed as a session guitarist and even spent some time working at the legendary Stax Records. But it was at his own American Studios in Memphis where he did his best work. Roben Jones wrote a history of American Studios.

ROBEN JONES: Chips was one of those producers who always put his own stamp on a record, and what he always stamped the records with was music about sorrow, suffering, pain and stoic endurance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FLY ME TO THE MOON")

BOBBY WOMACK: (Singing) In other words, hold my hand. In other words, Darling, I love you.

LIMBONG: You can maybe hear some of that sorrow and endurance in the songs he produced, like Bobby Womack's "Fly Me To The Moon," or this song if you take it out of its usual ballpark context.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SWEET CAROLINE")

NEIL DIAMOND: (Singing) Sweet Caroline, good times never seem so good.

LIMBONG: And it's definitely there in songs Moman co-wrote, like "The Dark End Of The Street," sung here by James Carr.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE DARK END OF THE STREET")

JAMES CARR: (Singing) You and me at the dark end of the street.

JONES: He summed up what life was like in the South for people of that time, for his age and generation. Before there was Southern Rock, there was Chips. He was the voice of the South.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY WON'T YOU PLAY ANOTHER SOMEBODY DONE SOMEBODY WRONG SONG")

B J THOMAS: (Singing) Hey, won't you play another somebody done somebody wrong song?

LIMBONG: In 1975, Moman won a Grammy for writing the best country song - "Hey Won't You Play Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song" sung here by B.J. Thomas. Chips Moman was 79 years old. Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEY WON'T YOU PLAY ANOTHER SOMEBODY DONE SOMEBODY WRONG SONG")

THOMAS: (Singing) So play, play for me a sad melody, so sad that it makes everybody cry, a real hurtin' song... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.