Can I Get A Witness?
Willie Mitchell (seen above in the studio, with Al Green), who shaped the elegant yet gritty sound of Al Green, Ann Peebles and other stars of soul music as the house producer at Hi Records in the 1960s and ’70s, died Tuesday in Memphis, where he lived. He was 81.
The Willie Mitchell sound — prominent horns, delicately strummed guitars, some sweet organ and a steady, straightforward beat — is instantly recognizable on records by singers like Mr. Green, Ms. Peebles, Syl Johnson and O. V. Wright, and on the instrumentals Mr. Mitchell recorded as a bandleader. Both raw and sensuous, it became Hi’s signature sound as the label rose to prominence with Mr. Green in the 1970s.
Although its legacy has been less celebrated than those of Stax or Sun, two other pioneering record labels that got started in Memphis in the 1950s, Hi was an integral part of the development of the Memphis soul sound, and Mr. Mitchell is widely credited as one of its architects.
“It’s the laziness of the rhythm,” Mr. Mitchell said in Peter Guralnick’s 1986 book Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom. “You hear those old lazy horns half a beat behind the music, and you think they’re gonna miss it, and all of a sudden, just so lazy, they come in and start to sway with it. It’s like kind of shucking you, putting you on.”
In 1961 Hi Records, then four years old, signed Mr. Mitchell as a recording artist, and from 1964 to 1969 he scored a number of minor R&B hits, including “Soul Serenade” and “30-60-90.” But he began to make a greater mark as the label’s combination producer and talent scout, bringing in Ms. Peebles and others. (He also produced Bobby Bland’s 1964 album “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do” for another Memphis label, Duke.)
In 1968 Mr. Mitchell was booked to perform at a club in Midland, Tex., with a fledgling singer from Michigan named Al Green as his opening act. On hearing him rehearse, Mr. Mitchell invited Mr. Green to Memphis and promised to make him a star.
Coached by Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Green found his voice, and by 1971 he had reached No. 1 on the pop charts with “Let’s Stay Together.”
Mr. Mitchell’s style proved a perfect canvas for Mr. Green’s finely finessed vocals, and together they made 13 Top 40 hits between 1971 and 1976, when Mr. Green left secular music for gospel and a career as a minister. Mr. Mitchell acquired an ownership stake in Hi in 1970 and remained with the company until it was sold in the late 1970s.
Mr. Green has said that he owes much of his success to Mr. Mitchell, especially his coaching, beginning with their first recording sessions together. “I was trying to sing like Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke and Wilson Pickett,” Mr. Green said in a 2003 interview, recalling Mr. Mitchell. “He said, ‘Sing like Al Green.’ ”
—NYT, Jan 6, 2010
Let’s have poems on your favourite soul singer. Take it to the bridge…Good God…Hit me..