NPR logo Legendary Producer-Arranger Willie Mitchell Has Died

Legendary Producer-Arranger Willie Mitchell Has Died

Willie Mitchell, architect of the legendary Memphis soul sound, has died at the age of 81. Mitchell worked most notably with Al Green and Ann Peebles, but also with lesser-known but amazing singers like O.V. Wright.

From Variety:

As musical director for Hi, the independent label founded by Memphis record retailer Joe Cuoghi and musician Ray Harris, Mitchell fashioned a run of gritty '70s soul smashes — some of which crossed over to the pop side — characterized by gliding, stabbing horn charts and propulsive drum work by Al Jackson Jr. and Howard Grimes.

The label's Royal Recording Studio employed a top-flight house band, Hi Rhythm, comprising the musical Hodges brothers — guitarist Mabon ("Teenie"), bassist Leroy Jr., and keyboardist Charles. The group became the '70s equivalent of Booker T. & The MG's, hit-making house unit for the Bluff City's Stax Records.

I spent many years tracking down Willie Mitchell 45s in thrift stores and record stores. I still cherish those singles, spinning them at the occasional dance party, but mostly putting them on the turntable when I'm alone, so that I can shuffle my feet and nod my head and twirl around the room in amazement.

Not too many producers can capture and translate the sound and mood of a city and a time. But listen to anything that Willie Mitchell touched, and there's an undeniable and irrepressible heartbeat, a groove and a drive.

Rest in peace, Willie Mitchell. And thanks for your music.