Willie Mitchell, the great musician, producer and composer, has died in Memphis. He was 81.

Willie was famous for putting Hi Records on the map in 1970, the label that gave us Al Green, Ann Peebles, O.V. Wright, Syl Johnson, and dozens and dozens of hits. He produced them all from his Royal Studios in Memphis, an assuming red brick building.

All those hits like “Let’s Stay Together” and “I Can’t Stand the Rain” came from Willie’s craftmanship. He was one of a kind, a legend. The Grammys honored him in 2008 with a lifetime achievement award.

And it’s not like Willie — a famed trumpeter and bandleader — only worked with Memphis musicians. Big rock stars sought him out all the time. Keith Richards asked him to produce his first solo album years ago, and the result was a wonderful track called “Make No Mistake.” Willie recently worked with Rod Stewart on his album of soul songs. There was only one Willie Mitchell sound, a lush undersweep with the Memphis Horns (the Hodges brothers) and a whip of a back beat. Everyone wanted to copy it, but no one could. And years after Al Green thought he’d moved on, he came back to get it again with Mitchell on a pair of recent albums.

Author
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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