- Hits: 1322
Instruments: Keyboards, Producer, Studio Owner
Date of Birth: March 16, 1943
Place of Birth: Killen, Alabama
1999 Induction Alabama Music Hall of Fame
Walk of Fame Star
David Briggs played his first recording session at 14. Since that time he has added keyboards to recordings of a Who's Who in pop and country music.
Briggs' first session was for James Joiner, and it was while working for Joiner's Tune Records that he met Jerry Carrigan, Norbert Putman and Terry Thompson. The four combined to form the original rhythm section at Rick Hall's Fame Studio, cutting hits on Arthur Alexander, Jimmy Hughes, Tommy Roe, The Tams and others.
Briggs was signed as an artist and songwriter to Decca Records in 1962, and two years later moved to Nashville. His big break came in 1965 when Floyd Cramer was late to a session with Elvis and Briggs was asked to play. Briggs went on the road with Elvis in 1975 and toured with his band until a few months before his death in 1977.
In the late 60s, Briggs and Putman opened Quadrafonic Studios and worked with many of the biggest names in pop music. He sold the studio in 1976, and opened his present facility, House of David.
In addition to his session work, Briggs has recorded hundreds of commercials for such clients as Burger King, McDonald's, Chevrolet, Coors, Budweiser, Coke, 7-Up, Dr. Pepper, Sears, K-Mart, Dolly Madison, Nestles, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Miller Beer and even the NBC theme song.
As a musical director he is credited with "This Country's Rockin'" a 10 hour HBO special; most of the "CMA Awards Shows"; CBS "Hall of Fame Special"; "The 65th Anniversary of the Grand Ole Opry"; and a 2½ hour TV special "Minnie Pearl Tribute".
His keyboard credits read like a who's who of pop and country music:
Elvis, Loretta Lynn, Bob Seger. Hank Williams, Jr., Joe Cocker, Alabama, Linda Ronstadt, Reba McEntire, Sammy Davis, Jr., Ronnie Milsap, Todd Rundgren, Marty Robbins, Al Hirt, Neil Young, Glen Cambell, Kenny Rogers, Earl Klugh, Eddie Arnold, B.B. King, Buck Owens, Nancy Sinatra, Roy Orbison, Ernest Tubb, Conway Twitty, James Brown, Roger Miller, The Crusaders, B.J. Thomas, Jerry Reed, Dolly Parton, James Galway, The Monkees, Roger Whitaker, Waylon Jennings, Dean Martin, Charlie Pride, George Harrison, Barbara Mandrell, Louise Mandrell, Eddie Rabbitt, K.T. Oslin, T. Graham Brown, Sawyer Brown, Chet Atkins, Johnny Cash, Mark Chestnut, Sammy Kershaw, The Vogues, Kim Karnes, Dobie Gray, Paul Williams, Joan Baez, Eric Clapton
Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame
David Briggs, the multi-talented Killen native - whose career includes creative collaborations with artists ranging from Elvis Presley to Steve Winwood - remains in the vanguard of the Nashville recording industry.
Over the years, Briggs has worked as a keyboardist, producer, publisher, songwriter and music director of network and cable television specials (from the Country Music Association Awards to a celebration for George and Barbara Bush).
"I was 14 years old when I cut my first session in Florence - I couldn't even drive to sessions for two years," Briggs said. "Back in those days, the only way any of us ever made any money out of music was playing in bands. That's how we made money to try to start a recording center there."
Briggs first worked for producer-publisher James Joiner, whose Florence-based Tune Records formed the foundation for the Muscle Shoals music industry.
"We were doing that first session there," Briggs recalled, "and James said something like, 'I like the way you play. Do you want to work' I said, 'Sure.' He was paying like $5 an hour, which was good money in those days. Electricians didn't make $5 an hour."
Briggs later joined another Florence music enterprise, Spar Music, where he encountered musical visionaries Tom Stafford, Rick and Billy Sherrill.
"That was the creative place to be in those days," Briggs said. "It's called the Muscle Shoals music industry, but it didn't start in Muscle Shoals. It started at Tom Stafford's on Tennessee Street and James Joiner's on Court Street in downtown Florence."
Briggs later went to work for Hall at the fledgling FAME music company - the first studio actually to open in Muscle Shoals.
It was there that Briggs, bassist Norbert Putnam, drummer Jerry Carrigan and guitarist Terry Thompson (who died in 1965) formed the first Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section.
"Terry was great, but the guitar players fluctuated because he was always drunk," Briggs said. "Terry was the best musician of all of us. That's probably why he drank all the time - because we were so bad. But he developed us as much as anybody. He picked us up as being the best of the worst. He taught us how to play with him."
FAME struck musical gold when "You Better Move On," an R&B single by Arthur Alexander, soared up the charts in 1961.
"It was amazing to us," Briggs recalled. "It was the realization of our dreams. That was what we always wanted to do, and it was the first record we cut as the rhythm section. We had a hit right out of the box, and we thought. 'This is easy. Anybody can do that.' We didn't realize how lucky we were."
Other hits followed, including Tommy Roe's "Everybody" and "Come On" and The Tams "What Kind of Fool Do You Thing I Am?" The rhythm section soon hit the road to promote its rising hits.
"Tommy Roe took us on tour with him, and soon we were opening shows for the Beatles," Briggs said. "We shot from being Alabama rednecks to opening for the hottest act in the world."
Songwriting and song-pitching eventually carried Briggs to Nashville, where legendary Music City producer Owen Bradley signed him to a Decca Records artist-songwriter's contract in 1962.
"Owen Bradley was the No. 1 producer around - he was like God, you know, in the music business," Briggs said. "I learned by watching what he did. We kind of had a father-and-son relationship, and he became my mentor."
After recording as a singer for Dot Records and an instrumentalist for Decca, Briggs found himself in constant demand as one of Nashville's most versatile and reliable session keyboardists.
"When you're a session musician, you learn to be good at everything, but you're never a specialist," Briggs said. "You're not a jazz player. You're not rock. You're not country. You've got to play it all, but you're not really great at anything - that's the sad part."
Along the way Briggs found himself recording albums with top names from every field of music.
"A typical day you'd do four sessions a day, six days a week," he said. "You could have Bill Monroe at 10 o'clock in the morning then at 2 o'clock you'd have Al Hirt with 65-100 pieces. At 6 o'clock, you might have Roy Rogers or Dean Martin or some other big star. From 10 o'clock that night until 8 the next morning you might have Elvis. That was my day every day, and it was always exciting."
"I was shaking in my boots when I met Elvis," Briggs recalled. "I started playing and he said, 'You're not bad, kid.' the first things we did were 'Love Letters' and 'How Great Thou Art.' Pretty soon he started calling me for everything. I think he liked me from the first time he met me, and I became his friend."
Briggs recorded with Presley for 11 years and even went on tour with the legendary entertainer from 1975 until 1976 - the year before Presley died.
"I think I had a special relationship with him that a lot of musicians didn't have," Briggs said. "On the road a lot of the guys never did see Elvis except onstage. I'd go down and stay at his house, and when we'd finished a show I'd go to his suite and hang out until 3 in the morning when he went to sleep."
Briggs and his former Muscle shoals associate, Norbert Putnam, opened their Quadraphonic Sound Studios in 1969. The high-profile facility attracted such stellar pop-rock talents as Presley, Jimmy Buffett (who recorded his signature hit "Margaritaville" there), Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt and Dan Fogelberg.
"That was a major step for us, and it was a great step," Briggs said. "We started signing these great writers - Will Jennings, Troy Seals and so many others."
Briggs sold Quadraphonic in 1976. The first client at his present facility, House of David, was rocker Joe Cocker. Working with Jennings (who wrote the Oscar-winning song for "Titanic"), Briggs also published such mammoth pop hits as Steve Winwood's "Higher Love" and Whitney Houston's "Didn't We Almost Have It All?"
"I've been an island here in Nashville doing pop," Briggs said. "I've had a lot of No. 1 its in country music, too, but most of my No. 1 hits have been pop. I don't set out to do it. I'm just more pop-inclined than I am country. I still have those R&B roots from Muscle Shoals."
"Looking at what happened in Muscle Shoals, I wonder what would have happened if all of us who left had stayed," Briggs said. "Think of all of us here - Buddy Killen, Kelso Herston, Billy Sherrill. Then there's Sam Phillips, who went to Memphis. If all of us had stayed, we could have been bigger than Nashville. We could make Nashville look like a demo."
From an article by Terry Pace
TimesDaily Friday, January 29, 1999