Tuesday, January 5, 2010
THE CHAMPION-PART I (R.I.P. WILLIE MITCHELL)
Sad news today out of Memphis, Tennessee.
Willie Mitchell, a record producer and musician who worked with Al Green and dozens of others, has died. He was 81.
Mitchell's son, Lawrence Mitchell, said his father suffered a cardiac arrest on Dec. 19 and died at Methodist University Hospital in Memphis at 7:25 a.m. Tuesday.
Mitchell was born and raised in Ashland, Miss.
At the age of eight, he began to play the trumpet. While in high school, he was a featured player in popular local big bands. He later formed his own combo, which from time to time included musicians such as trumpeter Booker Little, saxophonists Charles Lloyd, and George Coleman, and pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr. A trumpeter and bandleader in his own right, Mitchell released a number of popular singles for Hi Records as an artist in the 1960s, including "Soul Serenade."
Mitchell landed a job with the Home of the Blues record label as a producer, then left to join Hi Records as both a recording artist and a producer. When the founder of Hi Records, Joe Cuoghi, died in 1970, Mitchell suddenly found himself in charge of the label. What could have been a turbulent transition turned out to be a smooth one: a year before Cuoghi's passing, Mitchell had signed an up-and-coming soul singer named Al Green to the label. Under the guidance of Mitchell, Green's career would soon skyrocket and he became one of the '70s top soul artists with Mitchell co-producing and engineering all of Green's albums from 1970 through 1976 (the singer's most successful period), as well as such classic Top Ten hit singles as "Tired of Being Alone," "Call Me (Come Back Home)," "I'm Still in Love with You," "Here I Am (Come and Take Me)," "Let's Stay Together," "You Ought to Be with Me," "Look at What You Done for Me," "Let's Get Married," and others.
Known at the recording studio as "Papa Willie", Mitchell earned his nickname by taking over the reins of Hi Records in 1970 and guiding it through its most successful period. Mitchell's productions have been much noted for featuring a hard-hitting kick drum sound (usually played by pioneering Memphis drummer Al Jackson, Jr. of Booker T. and the MG's).
For further (and highly recommended listening), check out The Hi Masters.
Rest in peace, Willie. Here's a good track to remember him by: 1965's "The Champion (Part I)," a fierce Northern Soul workout.