The producer, songwriter, and guitarist Chips Moman was known for his uncanny ability to create hit records. His success in rock, pop, soul, and country music made him a significant figure in the history of each of these genres. He was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1990.
Lincoln Wayne “Chips” Moman was born to Mildred DeBerry and Abraham Lincoln Moman on June 12, 1937, in LaGrange, where he learned to play guitar as a child. At the age of fourteen he hitchhiked to Memphis, Tennessee, where he got a job working at a cousin’s painting business. Sun Records artist Warren Smith heard Moman playing guitar in a drugstore and asked if he wanted a job; soon Moman was on tour with the rockabilly performers Johnny Burnette and Gene Vincent. Later, while working as a session guitarist in Los Angeles, California, he decided that he wanted to become a producer.
Returning to Memphis, Moman started as a recording engineer for the struggling country label Satellite, which was run by siblings Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton. Moman encouraged them to relocate the recording studio to an old movie theater that he had discovered and to work with rhythm-and-blues artists. After Moman produced the label’s first hit, “Gee Whiz,” by Carla Thomas, Satellite changed its name to Stax. Hits by the Mar-Keys, William Bell, and Booker T. and the MGs established Stax as a dominant force in soul music, eventually second only to Motown in music chart success.
Always fiercely independent, Moman left Stax in 1964 in a dispute over revenues from the MGs’ hit “Green Onions” to establish his own American Sound Studios. The following year he scored a top ten hit with the Gentrys’ “Keep On Dancing.” With songwriting collaborator Dan Penn, Moman also wrote the soul classic “Dark End of the Street” during a break in a poker game (his nickname “Chips” reflects a lifelong interest in gambling). Moman and Penn also composed “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” which became a hit for Aretha Franklin.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Moman’s studio experienced an unprecedented run of hits in the music industry, producing more than 120 charting singles by pop, soul, and country artists. Among the musicians who made the pilgrimage to Memphis and recorded with Moman were Neil Diamond, Wilson Pickett, Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick, and the Box Tops. Another client, Elvis Presley, was fresh from the success of his 1968 “comeback” television special. Moman’s guidance and the down-home atmosphere of American Sound inspired some of Presley’s strongest recordings in years, including “Suspicious Minds,” “In the Ghetto,” “Kentucky Rain,” and “Rubberneckin’,” all of which charted in the top ten.
In 1971 he married Toni Wine, a songwriter. The couple later divorced, and Moman married Jane Calhoun. He had two children: a son, Casey, and a daughter, Monique.
In the mid-1970s Moman relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, and concentrated on country music. In 1975 he cowrote and produced “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song,” which was performed by B. J. Thomas and became the Country Music Association’s Song of the Year. Two years later “Luckenbach, Texas,” cowritten by Moman, was a hit for Waylon Jennings. During this period Moman also produced and played on albums by Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Willie Nelson, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins.
In 1985 Moman returned to Memphis with the encouragement of city officials to open a new studio in the hopes of reviving a flagging local music scene. The enterprise was unsuccessful, however, and led to legal turmoil and heavy financial losses for Moman. In the early 1990s he moved to West Point, near his hometown of LaGrange, where he continued to produce and record.
Moman died in LaGrange on June 13, 2016, at the age of seventy-nine.