The Young Willie Mitchell and Ruben Cherry’s Home of the Blues Records

Album Reviews, Albums, entertainment, music, Record Labels, Record Stores, records

Apparently Stomper Time Records (UK) is going to begin to document the superb and short-lived Home of the Blues label that Ruben Cherry and Celia Camp operated in Memphis from 1960-1962, and that is great news, considering that the two P-Vine Club reissues of Home of the Blues material have been unavailable since the mid-1990’s.
Home of the Blues began shortly after World War II as a record shop owned by Ruben Cherry at 107 Beale Street in Memphis. Its location near Beale and Main guaranteed that both Blacks and whites would buy music there, and they did. The shop was frequented by radio rebel Dewey Phillips and King Elvis himself, and Johnny Cash’s song “Home of the Blues” was allegedly titled in honor of the shop. By 1960, Ruben had gone into business with his aunt Celia G. Camp in forming a record label called Home of the Blues, which recorded a number of blues and early soul discs during its furious two years of recording.
Many of the Home of the Blues session were produced by a young Willie Mitchell, who at that time had produced a few sessions for Eddie Bond’s Stomper Time label. He recorded a number of instrumentals, as well as recordings by his doo-wop group The Four Kings featuring Don Bryant, all of which are documented on the Stomper Time CD Original Memphis Rhythm ‘N’ Blues. Of particular note are the sultry mambo “Tanya” and its driving Memphis-beat twin “Yvonne”, and the acapella Four Kings tracks that show strong points of similarity to the mysterious Sun group Hunki-Dori. Lead singer Don Bryant would follow Mitchell over to Joe Coughi’s Hi Records label, where he would have a much bigger career.
Most of the other Home of the Blues artists are featured on Rockin’ Rhythm ‘N’ Blues From Memphis, including Roy Brown, Dave Dixon, Larry Birdsong, Billy Adams, Billy Lee Riley, The 5 Royales, Gene “Bowlegs” Miller and the mysterious “Cleanhead Cootsie” who was one of many alter egos for the great Memphis saxophonist Fred Ford. Highlights here include Willie Cobb’s magnificent “You Don’t Love Me” which made inroads even into Jamaica, Larry Birdsong’s gospelish “I’ll Let Nothing Separate Me From Your Love” and two tracks from the rarely-recorded Robinsonville, Mississippi bluesman Woodrow Adams.
While the release of these two discs from Stomper Time sheds a welcome spotlight on an obscure era in Memphis music history, the 61 tracks on these two releases only scratch the surface of what exists in the Home of the Blues catalog. Here’s hoping that the good folks at Stomper Time will eventually release the entire output of this great-but-forgotten label.

Hi Rhythm Featuring Percy Wiggins Performs at the Stages on Sixth @SXSW 2013

entertainment, events, music, Music Conferences

Although the Hi Records imprint is forever associated with Willie Mitchell and his legacy of Memphis soul, the label didn’t start out that way at all. Begun by a group of investors that included Pop Tunes owner Joe Cuoghi (the “Hi” name seems to have come from the last two letters of Cuoghi’s name), the label focused on recording the kind of country and rockabilly that had brought success to other Memphis labels such as Sun, Moon and Fernwood. Instrumental hits by the Bill Black Combo kept the label going in this fashion until the first soul and blues recordings appeared in the mid-1960’s. Willie Mitchell became a producer at Hi after the demise of Ruben Cherry’s Home of the Blues label in 1963, and by the early 1970’s he was putting together the band that would become known as Hi Rhythm, built around the three Hodges brothers, Mabon, Charles and Leroy. The band went on to back every great Hi artist, from Al Green, to Syl Johnson, to Otis Clay, to O. V. Wright, to Ann Peebles.
By any rights, this year’s appearance of Hi Rhythm should have been one of the high points of SXSW, so although I was happy to have an easy time getting into the Stages on Sixth to see it, I was disappointed that the crowd was smaller than I had expected. Nevertheless, musically, the appearance of these Memphis legends with another living Memphis legend, soul singer Percy Wiggins was definitely the high point of MY South By Southwest, and the kind of serendipitous experience that makes me proud to be a Memphian. Percy Wiggins’ voice was in fine form, and it perfectly suited the sound and groove of Hi Rhythm, and Teenie Hodges, who was the subject of a documentary film at this year’s SXSW, was also on stage despite being on oxygen. Two fans were kept on him at all times to keep him cool during the performance. Altogether, it was a triumphant night for Memphis, and a tribute to the lasting vision and spirit of the late Willie Mitchell.

Willie Mitchell Historical Marker at Royal Studios

Blues, entertainment, events, Funk, Memphis, music, soul

On March 1, 2012, a historical marker was unveiled outside Royal Studios at 1320 Willie Mitchell Blvd in South Memphis in honor of the studios, Hi Records and Willie Mitchell. A number of Memphis music figures and personalities were there, including Preston Lauterbach, the author of The Chitlin Circuit and the Road to Rock and Roll, Boo Mitchell and many other members of the Mitchell family, Steve Burrage and the Novareses of the Poplar Tunes record stores, Otis Clay, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Earl Randle, Darryl Carter, Teenie Hodges, Charles Hodges, Howard Grimes, Scott Bomar of the Bo-Keys, Wes Phillips and DJ Bay of Select-O-Hits Music Distribution, Elizabeth Montgomery of Ardent, Cameron Mann and Pat Mitchell of the Memphis Music Foundation, local music supporter and businessman Kris Kourdevelis, George Klein, Jack Hale of the Memphis Horns, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and US Representative Steve Cohen of the 9th Congressional District. It was a beautiful day, and one of the kind of events that shows the good side of Memphis and what our city can and will be with a shared purpose and vision.