year of 1969 also saw Mitchell add the singer who, even more
than Peebles, would come to personify Hi Records in the
Seventies -- Al Green. The Mitchell band was playing some
dates in Texas. At a stop in Midland, a young singer from
Grand Rapids approached Mitchell, asking for help getting
home. Al Green had had a minor hit in 1967 with "Back Up
Train," but his career had stalled when he first sang for
"I first heard his
voice and I said, 'Man, you've got a beautiful voice. I got a
studio and everything. You go out to Memphis and maybe we can
make you a star.' And he said, 'How long would it take?' I
said, 'About 18 months, a year and a half.' And he said 'I
can't wait that long. "
rode Mitchell's van back to Memphis anyway and began recording
for the label. They first had him singing other people's
songs. But Green, with the same cocky impatience he'd shown in
Texas, thought he could do better with something he'd
"We started there
with "Can't Get Next To You" and stuff like that and
I was toting my song around in my pocket for days on end,
saying, 'Hey, I got a song.' And wasn't nobody listening to
me. And finally, at the end of the session, I says, 'Well, I
still got a song.' And so Willie said, 'Al, what is your
song?' I said, "Tired of Being Alone." And he said, 'Go out
there to the band and if we have time we'll cut it, if not,
just skip it, OK?'"
Being Alone" became Green's first major hit, reaching #7 on
the R&B charts, #11 pop in the summer of 1971, setting the
sensually yearning, romantic approach that would power his
hits for much of the decade.
"The legacy of Sun and
Hi and Stax have all been based around finding an identity for
the label as well as finding artists who could be established
artists, not just someone who sang songs," says Jud Phillips,
a consultant with the modern version of Hi and managing
partner in Phillips Entertainment.
In the early
Seventies, Hi had it all. Ann Peebles had cracked the dam, Al
Green busted it wide open and Hi's flood of hits kept coming.
Teenie Hodges and Green turned out the timeless classic, "Take
Me to the
River." Peebles, Bryant and Memphis DJ
Bernard Mr. B. Miller wrote "I Can't Stand the Rain" a twist
on all those "Singing in the Rain"-type songs, a precipitation
protest that anyone who has survived the Memphis monsoon
season can understand.
There were still
throwbacks to the old Hi instrumentals days, such as
saxophonist Ace Cannon's 1971 single, "Drunk," a cover of
R&B pioneer Joe Liggins. But the defining sound of Hi in
the Seventies was the sophisticated blend Mitchell created
with his update of Memphis soul.
Seventies, Stax, under the direction of Al Bell, was setting
its sights far beyond Memphis with such ambitious projects as
WattStax and an increasingly wider roster of artists. Hi
became the keeper of the flame for real Memphis