Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Willie Mitchell RIP

The legendary producer of Al Green, Syl Johnson and Ann Peebles, died today (Full tribute written a few days later below)

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Willie Mitchell died last week. To the man or woman on the street this will not mean much but almost every even casual music fan will of heard and hummed one of his songs in various forms over the years. Willie was highly respected in the world of southern soul, and helped mould Al Green into one of the most important soul singers of the last 40 years. Tunes such as "Let's Stay Together" and Ann Peebles "I Can't stand the rain" are rightly regarded as some of the most important soul tacks of all time, and Willie Mitchell was behind these and many more over a fantastic career that saw him writing, producing and performing for well over five decades.
TIna Turner was one such artist who benefited from Mitchell's genius. Her own comeback in the early 80's was spearheaded by the U.K. success of her "Let's Stay together" cover, while she also covered "I Can't stand the rain" during her most successful era. Rod Stewart, John Mayer and a host of other well known pop stars also turned to Mitchell over the years, and he was at hand to help spearhead the comeback of Al Green a few years ago too, as the two recreated one of soul musics great partnerships on a couple of very good albums. It is his early work with Green that elevated Mitchell to soul genius though.
He had been a respected musician who enjoyed some solo hits and was constantly on the road, but once he took over as head of the impressive Hi records, he really made his mark. He assembled one of the most impressive house bands in soul music and helped create a signature sound that combined jazzy chords with tight funky drums. Disciples such as the Rza of the Wu Tang Clan helped re-popularize this sound many years later through a major pillaging of Mitchell's back catalogue while producing some of the best hip-hop ever made. Kanye, Timbaland, Dilla and most of the modern day producers held Mitchell in great esteem, and Timbaland helped put Missy Elliot on the road to stardom with their cover and re-interpretation of "I Can't stand the rain" in the mid 90's. Before that she was a respected writer, singer and rapper, but ever since she has been a major musical player in the U.S.
It's a shame that the songs original singer, Ann Peebles, never found the solo fame her talent so obviously deserved, and she is seen by many as one of the most under-rated singers of the 70's. Similarly Syl Johnson, O.V.Wright and Otis Clay are all under-rated, despite various degrees of success. All three benefitted from some brilliant production from their label boss but much of this remained under the radar despite some heavy sampling and acknowledgement from the modern hip-hop and soul generation.
The same could certainly not be said of Al Green. He's been even more sampled and highly regarded and has been massively successful over the last 40 years. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I was mentioning how he gave Cork one of it's greatest ever concerts in 2005 and it is fair to say that he is one of greatest soul and pop singers alive. Willie Mitchell discovered Al Green and claimed "Of all the singers, he was the only one that could hear jazz changes and really sing in that style. Once we got that sound together, I just kept making those arrangements ... and it was just hit after hit. Al Green more recently said "Willie is like my brother, my father, my coach, my founder" The appreciation was mutual. May he rest in peace.

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    I'm a DJ from Cork in Ireland. I work with RedFM, presenting Red Drive, The Hitlist and my specialist show, Black on Red. I'm probably best known for being one of the main hip-hop/soul DJ's in Cork and Ireland. I've been DJing in Cork since the early 90's in legendary clubnights such as Sweat in Sir Henrys, Mor Disco, Free La Funk, Yo Latino and also Jam and Jam Junior at the Savoy and the Pavilion. I've also held down long term residencies at clubs around Ireland such as Brown Sugar at the Kitchen in Dublin, U-Turn at Ri Ra in Dublin, Jazz Juice at the GPO in Galway, Thompson Garage in Belfast, the Soul Clinic, Dee-Bop, Meltdown and Mo Bounce in Limerick and i've played abroad in the United States and the U.K. on numerous occasions. I also write a music column for the Evening Echo and i'm a regular contributor to the U.K.'s Blues and Soul, the longest running black music magazine in the world. These days i run the Pavilion, a music venue in Cork, which hosts my Jam night every few Fridays also you can catch me at