Friday, January 15, 2010

Hi Records

1-15-10 Hi Records

For most Americans, Hi Records (“The Memphis Sound”) means Al Green. I recently read the obituary for Willie Mitchell, a Hi Records stalwart that helped make some memorable Al Green Records, who had hits on his own. Rumor has it that Willie Mitchell recorded the first ever “live-in-the-studio” album in 1962. I have also started picking up another Hi Records artists’ records: Ace Cannon (who, unless I am mistaken) is still alive. Both Willie Mitchell and Ace Cannon have dozens of albums. And I think nearly all of them were released as 8-track tapes!

I remember gazing at the cases of 8-track tapes in places like White Front or Cal Store or The Treasury or Gemco – there were always tons of Hi Records’ artists on 8-track tape, with the distinctive ‘spine’, title sticking out. In the 60’s I wouldn’t have known who any of these people were – I just knew that like Al Hirt, there were 8-track tapes of all of ‘em.

But where do I go ‘mental’ with Hi Records? You guessed it. The Bill Black Combo. The late Bill Black was Elvis Presley’s bass player – the “Bill” in the phrase “Elvis, Scotty & Bill”. Which goes some to explain why Mr. Black is held in such high regard in England – the only place where nearly all of the original Hi Records B.B.C. (as they are affectionately known by their fans) albums are re-issued on CD (sadly, I only have 3 or 4 of these excellent 2-on-1 CD’s). But I have about a thousand LP’s and 45’s by ‘em. Instrumentals. Love it.

Hi Records (US) were distributed by London Records (US) in the 1960’s – all of my Ace Cannon and B.B.C. LP’s are nice heavy pressings, in thick cardboard covers – I bet they weigh a ton!

Being London Records, the Hi Records inner-sleeves all had album covers pictured – other titles released by Hi Records. The one that always got me was The Hi-Tones “Raunchy Sounds” (Hi SHL/HL 12011) – a record I’ve never seen. What was this LP? Faux-Bill Black Combo? And what about the Jumpin’ Gene Simmons LP? (Hi SHL/HL 12018). Never saw that either. Or Bobby Emmons “Blues With A Beat With an Organ” (Hi SHL/HL 12024). Where’s that one? Never seen it.

Bill Black died in 1965, but mysteriously there were 3 or 4 B.B.C. LP’s released each year for the entire rest of the 60’s. And after Bill Black was gone, the ‘sound’ of those records didn’t change appreciably. Eventually, Hi Records went on to be distributed by smaller and smaller labels – until being revived with the R&B fortunes of Al Green (“Let’s Stay Together” etc.) in the 70’s. The Bill Black Combo eventually even signed with Columbia Records!

Flash forward 25+ years. I got hot to get all the Bill Black Combo LP’s. Mono copies, stereo copies, 1st cover, 2nd cover; 45’s – promo, juke box EP’s etc. And most everything was inexpensive. Took a few turns of the wheel, but I eventually got a nearly full set, at least of B.B.C. 60’s releases on Hi. I wish I could find more of those 2-on-1 B.B.C. CD’s – they’re typically filed in “Oldies”…in stores that still have “Oldies” sections…

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