What it was like to record with Aretha Franklin
Keyboardist Spooner Oldham was a member of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and has been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He also played on some of Aretha Franklin’s biggest hits including “Respect,” “Think,” “Natural Woman,” and “I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You).” He told EW what it was like to record with the late legend.
I met Aretha in FAME Studios the day we recorded [“I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”]. We were both in our mid-20s. She was nice — sort of shy-ish so there wasn’t a lot of talking. But she had such command of that voice and piano.
I remember toying with the Wurlitzer electric while everybody was tuning up, setting their levels, and trying to get the song started. I just started playing that riff that you hear on the record, and then she’s singing — and she played the acoustic piano on the second verse. She was more than just a singer, more than just a piano player, she had it all going on. It was a fun day. It was just free flowing. The three albums I played on, she never said to play this or do that. It was never a lot of work. I don’t know what homework she did beforehand. I just know she sang it once or twice and was done.
[For “Respect”], the first time I heard “Sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me, sock it to me” and “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” you know, boy, I knew something was going on there that I’d never heard before in my life. It was a great vocal arrangement. To hear these Aretha songs today, it’s like day one in the studio, making that new, fresh music that you hope endures for a lifetime.
Many years past and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame did a tribute for her. I was in the house band. She came in with her entourage. I’m thinking, Well, she’s going to have a busy day, a hundred things to do so just say hello, reintroduce yourself, it’s been 20 years. She stopped her whole security and we took a photo together. Aretha was telling these people who I was and what relationship I had to her recordings. They were friendly and excited. So, yeah I did see her and she was, you know, she was all right.