Willie Mitchell started out studying classical trumpet, but by 1954 the Memphis soul stew, to borrow a King Curtis title, had brought him into rhythm and blues, playing with several bands and eventually leading one of his own. In 1963 he was signed to Hi Records, a label known mostly for R&B instrumentals, distributed by London; their biggest act had been Bill Black's Combo, followed by Bill Black's sax player, Ace Cannon. None of Mitchell's early waxings went anywhere, but "20-75," so titled because it was Hi record number 2075, got massive airplay in the South and crept into the lower reaches of the Top 40. By 1969, he'd charted 14 records in Billboard, the biggest being "Soul Serenade" (Hi 2140, 1968, a revision of a King Curtis number), and had been doing A&R for Hi, but he had bigger ideas. Touring with his band in Texas in 1969, he hired a young singer named Al Greene, who'd just missed the Top 40 with a ballad called "Back Up Train" a couple of years earlier. Impressed, he signed Greene to Hi, simplified his name to "Al Green," and cut some of the deepest soul grooves anyone had ever heard. Mitchell and Hi parted company at the end of the 1970s, when the label was sold and moved to the West Coast; Willie continued to work out of Memphis as free-lance producer and, since the middle 1980s, owner of Royal Recording on Memphis' south side. He died in January 2010 at eighty-one.
Where can I get this on CD?
The Right Stuff label issued Soul Serenade: The Best of Willie Mitchell in 1999; it seems to be out of print for the moment, even in downloadable versions.
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Copyright © 2010 by Charles G. Hill
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