O.V. Wright - I Don't Know Why (Hi 79531)
I Don't Know Why
Again and again on these pages, I've gone on about the genius of Willie Mitchell, and his importance to the development of this music. As I've said before, I consider him to be the Duke Ellington of Soul.
As a bandleader and arranger in the late fifties and early sixties, the influence he had on what would become known as Memphis Soul is just incalculable. In a 2003 interview, Willie was asked when he realized he could make it as a producer; "When I cut 'Eight Men, Four Women' with O.V. Wright then came right back with 'Two Steps from the Blues' with Bobby Bland. I knew I could make it then. That was 1965." Although the chronology appears a bit off, the fact remains that Don Robey saw the incredible talent Willie had, and hired him to produce some of the greatest records ever made.
As we've seen, he was the producer on all of O.V.'s subsequent Back Beat singles which, taken together, represent just a monumental body of work. His collaboration with O.V. matured over the years, and his 1973 LP Memphis Unlimited (now featured on the ol' podcast) brings it all together. With Hi Rhythm just crankin' it out, it is, in my opinion, a masterpiece that rivals the work Willie was doing with Al Green at the same time. Robey would sell his labels to ABC shortly after that, and although they released a couple of 45s on him, when O.V. landed in prison in 1975, they didn't renew his contract the following year.
Willie, meanwhile, had sold Hi to Al Bennett, the owner of Cream Records out on the coast. He retained ownership of his Royal Studio in the deal, however, and when O.V. was released in 1977, he convinced Bennett to sign him, so he could continue to record him there on South Lauderdale the way he always had. He brought O.V. back into the charts that summer with the soulful disco of Into Something (Can't Shake Loose), an album that also includes what may be "...the greatest 13 minutes in Deep/Southern Soul music history," Wright's classic medley of 'God Blessed Our Love, When A Man Loves A Woman, and That's How Strong Our Love Is'.
This absolutely awesome record we have here today is taken from O.V.'s next Hi LP, The Bottom Line. It's no secret that Wright was not well in those days, and that years of heroin addiction were taking their toll. Although his vocal capacity may indeed have been diminished, he still manages to find the soul within. I love the atmosphere Willie weaves around him, and that whole funky Mr. Fantasy guitar thing just knocks me out! It was released as the flip of We're Still Together which was actually the title track of O.V.'s next, and final, album.
Here's what Willie told me in June:
"When we were recording that last album, O.V. was sick, and ended up in the hospital. The medicine couldn't get to where it needed to go because all of his veins had collapsed from shooting the drugs. He didn't weigh no more than 114 pounds. I made a deal with the doctors, and they let me bring him to the studio here for two hours a day, from eleven til one, and that's how we finished that record. I'd go into the hospital, put him over my shoulder, and just carry him on out of there..."
Thirty years later, Willie Mitchell is still there, in that place where they cut all of that soul. As part of our weekend long tribute to O.V. Wright and his music, we have organized a tour of Royal Studio at 3pm on Friday, November 14th. Mister Mitchell will be there, same as always.
Come shake his hand.