*Studio musician Todd Simon (of Antibalas, Breakestra, The Dap Kings, and El Michels Affair fame) wrote this on Willie Mitchell’s recent passing. Willie was a big influence on Todd, and studio musicians like him, so here are some of his thoughts. RIP Mr. Mitchell.
To find out one of your biggest heroes has passed away via Twitter is not fun. Five days into a brand-spanking new decade, I stumble upon a tweet from the east coast vinyl-digging monster DJ Small Change: “RIP Willie Mitchell. Can’t fuck with Hi Records real schitt.” My heart sank 20 floors.
Willie Mitchell is solely responsible for creating one of the most unique sounds from the R&B Soul movement of the ’60s and ’70s. Mitchell, who died at the age of 81 due to a heart-attack on January 5th, 2010, developed something fresh in R&B while Soul radio stations were flooded with James Brown, the Motown sound of Detroit, Philly Soul, and of course, his neighbors over at Stax in Memphis.
As in-house producer for Hi Records, “Papa Willie” produced and arranged hit after hit with Soul legends Al Green, Ann Peebles, Syl Johnson, O.V. Wright, and Bobby Bland. Mitchell also led his own band as a trumpeter and released many hits under his own name, including “Soul Serenade” and “30-60-90“. Eventually, he gained ownership of Hi Records in 1970 and continued the label’s legacy until the late ’70s.
The first time I heard Willie’s sound was on Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” on an oldies radio station around the age of nine. I had already started studying the trumpet and was blown away by the powerful and intense horns throughout the entire song. Soon to find out, my mother had two Al Green LP’s in her wonderful vinyl collection: I’m Still In Love With You and Let’s Stay Together. Little did I know that these records would go on to shape my musical life for years to come. It’s these recordings that served as reference for my first ever horn arrangements in addition to the majority of albums I’ve worked on since.
Continue reading “Farewell Willie”