Prior to the widespread mechanization of music, studio and house bands were the unheralded backbone of the recording industry, providing each studio with a unique sound that would help define their individual character.
Motown had the sophisticated, urbane sound of The Funk Brothers. Muscle Shoals had the country-soul of the Swampers. Stax had the genre-defining Booker T. and the MGs. And at Hi Records there was the Hi Rhythm Section, one of the most talented and distinctive studio bands of all time.
During the late 1960s, Hi Records producer Willie Mitchell assembled his house rhythm section around three very young and extremely talented local brothers: guitarist Mabon "Teenie" Hodges, bassist Leroy Hodges, and organist Charles Hodges. Along with keyboardist Archie Turner and drummer Howard Grimes (and occasionally MG's drummer Al Jackson Jr.), the group laid down some of Memphis’ most unforgettable grooves for Royal Studio regulars like Al Green, Ann Peebles, O.V. Wright, Syl Johnson, and Otis Clay.
By the mid-1970s, when Hi Records was at its creative peak, the Hi Rhythm Section had provided the backing grooves for a countless number of hit songs and appeared on nearly 20 gold and platinum albums. In 1976, the group released their first solo album, On the Loose, an appropriately titled LP that exhibited a funkier and less restrained side of the band. Unfortunately, the following year would prove to be catastrophic for Hi Records: Soul music’s popularity was waning as disco was on the rise; Al Green had left the label in order to return to the church; and Hi Records was sold to label mogul Alvin Bennett. The band would break up in the midst of the chaos.
The Hodges brothers continued to perform for the next couple of decades, working with Albert Collins, Otis Clay, Syl Johnson and others while also sporadically reuniting with Grimes and Turner during special gigs and studio sessions. In 2005, the band came together as the Memphis Rhythm Band with singer-songwriter Cat Power on her critically acclaimed album The Greatest, also serving as her touring band.
From the steamy “I Can’t Stand the Rain” to the pleading “Call Me,” the Hi Rhythm Section proved downright virtuosic in capturing the mood of a particular song and were instrumental in helping to define the sound for some of the 20th Century’s greatest singers. After decades of continuously defining and redefining the sound of Memphis soul, the Hi Rhythm Section has earned their rightful place as true icons of Memphis music history.
Hi Rhythm, "On the Loose"
Fat Possum Records