Neal Hemphill

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Neal Hemphill (born 1930 in Mobile, died 1985 in Birmingham) was a plumber and record producer who operated the a recording studio from the basement of his Midfield plumbing shop between 1966 and 1985. Hemphill recorded tracks for numerous musicians and songwriters that went on to greater acclaim, releasing many of them on his own Sound of Birmingham, Hemphill, Black Kat and Crown LTD labels. The studio's biggest hit was Frederick Knight's 1972 R&B ballad "I've Been Lonely for So Long", which was licensed to Stax Records.

Hemphill was born in Mobile and had tried singing professionally with the gospel group "The Commander's Quarter". In the 1960s he moved his family to Birmingham and opened a plumbing business. In 1966 he opened up a private recording studio, which he named the Sound of Birmingham, in the basement of his plumbing shop. He experimented constantly with recording equipment and techniques and, over time, developed a characteristic sound for the studio that emphasized creativity and experimentation. That sound, as well as Hemphill's liberal philosophy on paying for sessions, attracted a number of young artists.

In 1976 Hemphill suffered a heart attack and had to sell his recently-completed larger studio. Don Moseley purchased the equipment, including a 16-track mixing board Hemphill had bought from Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland studio, and moved Sound of Birmingham downtown.

In the 1980's Hemphill returned to recording, opening Hemphill Studios in his old studio space next to the plumbing shop. He died in 1985. His son, Neal Hemphill, Jr still runs the plumbing business. The output of the studio has been licensed to Chicago DJ and promoter John Ciba, who is releasing a CD compliation of classic Sound of Birmingham tracks called "The Birmingham Sound: The Soul of Neal Hemphill". The first volume was released in Chicago on August 12, 2006 and debuted in Birmingham at a special concert at Bottletree on August 19.


  • Mehr, Bob (August 11, 2006) "Soul Plumber". Chicago Reader. - accessed August 14, 2006