The Mighty Willie Mitchell
Listen/Download -Willie Mitchell – That Driving Beat
Listen/Download -Willie Mitchell – Up Hard
Listen/Download -Willie Mitchell – My Babe
I come to you today with some sad news, that being the passing of the giant of Memphis soul and R&B, Mr. Willie Mitchell.
Mitchell is best known – at least to those outside of hardcore soulies – as the man who made Hi Records a major force in soul music, especially via his productions for Al Green, Syl Johnson, Ann Peebles, O.V. Wright and many others.
Mitchell, who was born in Ashland, Mississippi – got his start as a trumpet playing bandleaders in Memphis before joing Joe Coughi’s Hi label in 1959 as an artist, producer, and arranger. Following Coughi’s death in 1970, Mitchell ended up bringing the label its greatest success.
The music of Willie Mitchell (as performer and producer) has been a constant presence in the Funky16Corners Radio podcasts, and the three songs I bring you today all appeared in those mixes over the last three years.
The first two, ‘That Driving Beat’ and ‘Up Hard’ are both Mod soul classics.
1965’s ‘That Driving Beat’ is a slamming dancer in a Junior Walker stylee, with blaring tenor sax, a horn section that sounds like the model for Otis Redding’s version of Satisfaction’ and unlike most of his records from this period, vocals.
‘Up Hard’, written by (and featuring) organist Art Jerry Miller (who went on to record his own album for the Stax subsidiary Enterprise) mixes a tight horn section with a powerful, gritty guitar line and pounding drums. The 1968 single was released with two different B-sides.
The final track, Mitchell’s 1969 cover of Willie Dixon’s ‘My Babe’ is a 45 that I slept on for YEARS. There it sat in my crates, picked up at some flea market or other for a pittance, all but ignored. Never a huge fan of the song itself, I finally pulled it out one day and gave it a spin, and was promptly blown away. There, nestled in the grooves of a record that I had long suspected was a run of the mill R&B/soul instrumental, was a sizzling bit of organ funk that has had a place of honor in my DJ box ever since.
These tunes by no means represent a comprehensive sampling of Willie Mitchell’s career. They’re just three of his records that I like a lot.
I suspect that other – in particular Red Kelly of the B-Side – will be posting long form tributes to the greatness of Willie Mitchell.
Dig the tunes, and I’ll be back on Friday.
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