Hi Records was set up in Memphis in 1957 by singer Ray Harris, record store owner Joe Cuoghi, two Sun Records producers Bill Cantrell and Quinton Claunch plus three silent partners.
Hi Records became a creative force in the R&B and Soul music field due to the imaginative vision and forward thinking of Willie Mitchell, who became involved in A&R, production and song-writing and was also chief engineer during the height of Hi Records popularity in the 1970s. All of the label’s classic recordings were engineered at Royal Studios, located at 1320 South Lauderdale Avenue in Memphis and named after the Royal Theater, which was a cinema before it became a functional recording studio.
Denise LaSalle was the first artist to achieve a gold record thanks to the magical production and arrangement skills of Mitchell. The musicians on the date included Howard Grimes (drums), Leroy Hodges (bass), Marvell Thomas (keyboards), Mabon “Teenie” Hodges (rhythm guitar), Charles Hodges (organ and piano), with background vocals by Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes, complemented by the Memphis Horn Section, which included Andrew Love (alto sax), Wayne Jackson (trumpet) and James Mitchell (baritone sax). These are the musicians that became the backbone of the “Hi Sound”, with the addition of Al Jackson Jr. on drums. What made this rhythm section so different from the Stax and Goldwax studio bands was the consistent uniform powerful presence of the Hodges brothers, which gave the entire studio band a distinctive sound in Southern soul music. The horns were arranged by veteran trumpeter Gene “Bowlegs” Miller; they complemented LaSalle’s dynamic, relaxed and tremendously forceful voice and made the song a landmark recording with deep soulfulness and feeling. When you play the track today (“Trapped By A Thing Called Love”), it sounds fresh and exciting and makes you respect the genius and talents of Denise, Willie Mitchell and the legendary Hi rhythm section. Denise was quite a remarkable businesswoman, running her own production company called Crajon Productions, co-owned with her ex-husband Bill Jones, and based in Chicago from 1969 to 1974. Such things were unheard of in the Soul music community during that period. She was a woman with a true entrepreneurial spirit and a winning psychology. Later she acquired radio stations with her then husband James Wolfe, who was a disc jockey by trade.
An interesting contribution to the success of Hi Records was the studio structure at Royal. The sloping floors generated a strong acoustic response throughout the studio, giving it a recognisable sound, different from other studios across the Southern states and around the world.
Photo: jbcurio 2008