Born 26 September 1912, Morgan City, Louisiana
Died 11 February 1988, Los Angeles, California

Guitarist, arranger, conductor.

Basically a jazz man, René Hall had a long, varied career in music. He is primarily of interest to rock and roll fans for his prolific work in Los Angeles as a session guitarist and arranger during the 1956-1965 period. Rock n roll guitar playing was only a small part of his career, but one that should surely be acknowledged since he was so brilliant at it.

Hall’s recording debut (August 1933) was as a banjo player, with Joseph Robichaux and his New Orleans Rhythm Boys, a traditional jazz band. He switched to guitar and trombone as a member of the Ernie Fields Orchestra (1935-1942) in Oklahoma. Soon thereafter Hall joined Earl Hines’ orchestra as trombonist and musical arranger and moved to New York City. There he built up a considerable reputation as a session musician in the late 1940s. Around 1949 he formed his own sextet, which recorded for Jubilee (1950), Domino, Decca (1951) and RCA Victor (1952-53), with credits alternating between the Rene Hall Trio and the Rene Hall Orchestra. In the early fifties René also worked as a talent scout for King Records and was responsible for signing Billy Ward and the Dominoes to the label (or, to be exact, its subsidiary Federal). He also plays guitar on many Dominoes records, including their smash hit "Sixty Minute Man", and toured with the group for over two years, ending up in Las Vegas.

In 1955 Hall moved from Vegas to Los Angeles and found work at Art Rupe’s Specialty label as an arranger. In an interview with Stu Colman (for the magazine New Kommotion), Hall told that his first involvement with "hard rock n roll" took place during a Little Richard rehearsal date in Los Angeles in late 1955. But he was not exclusively signed to Specialty and "soon I was conducting rock n roll dates for just about every label in town". Most notably for Specialty, Aladdin, Class, Del-Fi and Rendezvous. His jazzy guitar style was transformed into an aggressive, easily identifiable rock n roll style. Good examples are the Specialty tracks "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" (Larry Williams), "Sack" (Ben Hughes) and "Koko Joe" (Don and Dewey). Or, on Del-Fi, several Ritchie Valens numbers, like "Come On Let’s Go", "Ooh My Head" and "That’s My Little Suzie" and Chan Romero’s "Hippy Hippy Shake" have classic guitar breaks by René. Hall plays the riff on Valens’ version of "La Bamba" (on a Danelectro six-string bass guitar), but not the solo, as has often been alleged.

Hall had three instrumental Specialty releases under his own name, the best of which was the first one, "Twitchy"/"Flippin'", released in December 1957. On the A-side we hear a unitar, a one-stringed instrument invented and played by Willie Joe Duncan. Hall himself takes the lead on "Flippin’" (which he co-wrote with Sonny Bono), with Plas Johnson (sax) and Earl Palmer (drums) providing excellent backing.

The trio of Hall, Johnson and Palmer (all Afro-Americans, all originally from Louisiana) had almost daily contact in the L.A. studios. Together they can be heard on hundreds of enduring R&R/R&B recordings. All three men had tried for commercial success with solo recordings, but to no avail. They decided to pool their resources into a company called Record Masters and tried to sell the masters to various record companies, who would release these instrumental rock recordings under a variety of names. The most successful of these projects were a revived Ernie Fields orchestra (scoring a million seller with "In the Mood" in 1959) and B. Bumble and the Stingers ("Bumble Boogie", "Nut Rocker", etc.), both on the Rendezvous label. Hall, Johnson and Palmer were much too busy in the studio to make themselves available for any kind of promotion of these records, let alone touring. If one of their instrumentals became a hit, a touring group would be put together and sent on the road, consisting of musicians who had not played on the original records. Usually it was Hall who would teach them the arrangements.

After his Specialty recordings, he continued to release solo singles, on Allied, Arvee, Del-Fi, Castil and other labels, in a variety of styles. Among the many artists for whom René Hall wrote arrangements were Sam Cooke, Eddie Cochran, Bobby Day, Sandy Nelson, Brook Benton, Bobby Darin (during his Capitol tenure), The Routers, The Marketts, Lou Rawls, Jackie DeShannon and Marvin Gaye. As the 1960s progressed and many things changed in the music world, Hall moved into film scoring. When the Motown empire relocated from Detroit to Los Angeles in 1972, a new incentive arose for studios, musicians and writers in L.A. and Hall did his share of work for Motown, especially for Marvin Gaye.

Hall remained active in the music business until his death (of heart disease) on February 11, 1988, aged 75.

The Hall-Johnson-Palmer trio (usually augmented with Ray Johnson or Ernie Freeman on piano and Red Callender on bass) was the busiest and best session outfit on the West Coast, if not in the entire USA. Their recordings from the 1957-1960 period constitute the very essence of rock n roll.

More info :

Further reading : The Many Sides Of René Hall, by Stu Colman, in : New Kommotion, issue 25 (1980), p. 37-38, 46.

CD’s :
There is no CD specifically devoted to René Hall. His six Jubilee recordings (two previously unissued) have been included on the CD "Saxophony!" (Sequel NEM CD 748, 1995), annotated by Dave Penny.
There are several Various artists compilations of Specialty material with heavy involvement of René Hall, for instance "Rip It Up. The Specialty Story" (One Day DAY2CD178, 2012). 50 tracks on 2 CD’s.

Acknowledgements : Stuart Colman, Dave Penny, Earl Palmer’s autobiography. Special thanks to Henk Gorter for scanning the New Kommotion article.

YouTube :
Twitchy :
Flippin’ :
Thunderbird :
Cleo :
O Sole Mio Rock :
Night Fright :
Dizzy Miss Lizzy (Larry Williams) :
Sack (Ben Hughes) :
Christopher Columbus (Ernie Fields) :

Dik, February 2015

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at

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