Al Green may have eventually made it without Willie Mitchell guiding hand, but the two are directly intertwined, its impossible to separate Al Green’s sound without thinking of Willie Mitchell. Nor would Wu-Tang’s GZA’s signature song “Liquid Swords” have its dark guitar opening without Mitchell’s “Groovin'”. Take a moment, and revisit Rev. Green today, and honor a soul legend.
Best known as the man who signed Al Green to Hi Records and as the producer of Green’s most popular records, Willie Mitchell had a successful recording career of his own during the mid-’60s before meeting Green. Born on March 23, 1928, in Ashland, MS, Mitchell was raised in Memphis, TN, and began studying music and arranging at an early age, taking up the trumpet at the age of eight and learning from pianist Ozie Horn (as well as drawing from such influences as Roy Eldridge and Harry James). After he was discharged from the Army in 1954, Mitchell moved back to Memphis, where he soon became a popular, local trumpet-playing bandleader — including Elvis Presley hiring the big band to play several private parties. By 1959, Mitchell had turned his attention to studio work and he signed on with Hi Records; he is often credited as being the creator of the oft-copied and instantly recognizable Hi sound (churning organ fills, sturdy horn arrangements, a steady 4/4 drumbeat, etc.).
Throughout the ’60s, Mitchell became a popular concert attraction on U.S. college campuses and he scored several moderately successful soul/dance hit singles, issuing a steady stream of solo releases for the Hi label. When the founder of Hi Records, Joe Cuoghi, died in 1970, Mitchell suddenly found himself in charge of the label. What could have been a turbulent transition turned out to be a smooth one: a year before Cuoghi’s passing, Mitchell had signed an up-and-coming soul singer named Al Green to the label. Under the guidance of Mitchell, Green’s career would soon skyrocket and he became one of the ’70s top soul artists with Mitchell co-producing and engineering all of Green’s albums from 1970 through 1976 (the singer’s most successful period), as well as such classic Top Ten hit singles as “Tired of Being Alone,” “Call Me (Come Back Home),” “I’m Still in Love with You,” “Here I Am (Come and Take Me),” “Let’s Stay Together,” “You Ought to Be with Me,” “Look at What You Done for Me,” “Let’s Get Married,” and others.