Soul architect Willie Mitchell, Dead at 81 | Bleader

Soul architect Willie Mitchell, Dead at 81


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Willie Mitchell
  • Willie Mitchell
Singular Memphis producer and songwriter Willie Mitchell died Monday at 81 following prolonged health problems, including a December heart attack. Though his career spanned more than five decades—he got started as a jazz trumpeter in the 50s—his most important work came during the late 60s and 70s, when he produced and released distinctive soul records on his own Hi Records, among them classics by Al Green, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay, O.V. Wright, and Syl Johnson.

Working with a killer house band that included drummer Howard Grimes, bassist Leroy Hodges, keyboardist Charles Hodges, guitarist Teenie Hodges, and the Memphis Horns, Mitchell developed a sleek, instantly identifiable sound marked by a steady 4/4 beat, percolating organ fills, punchy horns, and floor-rumbling low end. His label’s knockout run ended in the late 70s, and while Mitchell never stopped working, he never again matched that peak. In recent years he’d reunited with some of his best clients, producing Clay’s This Time Around (Bullseye Blues, 1998) and Green’s acclaimed secular comeback record I Can’t Stop (Blue Note, 2003). Last year Fat Possum Records licensed the entire Hi Records catalog, and so far they’ve reissued most of Green’s best work, along with titles by Peebles, Wright, Johnson, and Mitchell’s own 1967 album Ooh Baby, You Turn Me On.

Today’s playlist:

It Hugs Back, The Record Room: First Four Singles (Too Pure)
Linda Oh Trio, Entry (Linda Oh Music)
The Ettes, Do You Want Power (Take Root)
Fred Hersch, Plays Jobim (Sunnyside)
C Joynes, Revenants, Prodigies and the Restless Dead (Bo’ Weavil)