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Mabon 'Teenie' Hodges

June 22, 2014
Mabon 'Teenie' Hodges
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Obituary for Mabon 'Teenie' Hodges

MABON 'TEENIE' HODGES - Mabon 'Teenie' Hodges, age, 68, passed away on Sunday, June 22, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. *He was known as “Teenie,” but in the annals of soul and R&B history he was a giant: a million-selling songwriter, a genre-defining guitarist, and the creative and emotional anchor of the vaunted studio group Hi Rhythm. Mabon “Teenie” Hodges may have been small in physical size but his legacy was massive; his 50-year career and body of work serving as one of the cornerstones of the Memphis sound. Mr. Hodges died Sunday night at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, from complications of emphysema. He’d been taken to Baylor following an appearance at Austin’s South by Southwest music festival in March after coming down with pneumonia. He was 68 years old. Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, a longtime family friend and grandson of Mr. Hodges’ mentor, the late producer Willie Mitchell, confirmed the news of his passing. 'It's a huge blow to Memphis music,' said an emotional Mitchell. 'Teenie was an icon -- as a songwriter and a guitarist. Guitarists all around the world loved and imitated his playing. But Teenie ... man, he was one of a kind.' During Hi Records' glory years starting in the late '60s, Mr. Hodges wrote or co-wrote many classics of the R&B genre, including a succession of hits with and for Al Green: 'Here I Am,' 'Full of Fire,' 'Take Me to the River' and 'Love and Happiness' Mr. Hodges was also the cornerstone of the famed Hi Rhythm band, under the direction Willie Mitchell. A singular-sounding unit, the group's languid, dreamy grooves became the signature that helped propel the careers of Otis Clay, Ann Peebles, Syl Johnson, and most notably, Green. Hodges and company would redefine the sound of R&B into the 1970s with their work on classic albums such as Green's Call Me and I'm Still In Love With You and Peebles' I Can't Stand the Rain. The group would carry the torch for Memphis soul even as Hi's South Memphis neighbors at Stax fell by the wayside. 'What he did for Willie over at Hi was special and unique,' said Mr. Hodges' close friend and Stax Records great, David Porter. 'Teenie created the groove, the pocket, as one would call it. That came from the way he played rhythmically. That groove was what made the records for Al Green and so many others such big hits. And that sound, that feel, it came totally from Teenie's spirit. That's what the world should know about this man: his heart is in all those records.' A diminutive figure with an outsized personality and flamboyant sense of style, Teenie Hodges was raised in a musical hothouse. Born in 1946 into a family of 12 children, he grew up in what were then the farm lands of post-World War II Germantown. Mr. Hodges' father, Leroy Sr., led his own blues outfit, the Germantown Blue Dots. Most of the Hodges boys apprenticed in the group -- including Teenie, who began playing guitar with the band at age 12. While Mr. Hodges continued working with his dad, his brother Leroy formed his own R&B band, the Impalas, with a group of young musicians who included Tommy Lee Williams and Archie Turner, the stepson of noted Memphis trumpeter and band leader Willie Mitchell. In the early '60s, Mr. Hodges, then just an eager-to-please teenager, turned up at Mitchell's home where the Impalas were rehearsing. 'I really wanted Willie to hear me play,' recalled Mr. Hodges in an interview with The Commercial Appeal in 2007. 'He said 'No, you can't play worth a damn! Your problem is you use a thumb pick, you need to start playing with a flat pick.' So that's how I started playing with a flat pick. I was 16 when he told me that.' That would be the first of many musical lessons Mitchell would offer Mr. Hodges. Within a few months, he had unofficially adopted Teenie, who came to live with and learn from Mitchell for the next seven years. 'I'd go with him to his gigs at the Manhattan Club (in West Memphis),' recalled Mr. Hodges. 'Sometimes I'd just sit there and watch. Sometimes I'd play a set. Then, eventually he hired me to play on the weekends. Then I went out of town to a show in Ohio. And I played with him everywhere after that.' Within a year after Mr. Hodges became a full-fledged member of Mitchell's band in 1965, his brothers Charles and Leroy would also join, playing organ and bass. They would add drummer Howard Grimes, one of the pioneering young players who'd helped shape Stax's earliest recordings, thus birthing the core of what would become Hi Rhythm (adding Archie Turner on keys a few years later). In between their live dates, the band would develop their sound recording sides for Mitchell as well as a selection of his fellow Hi Records artists, including Ace Cannon, Charlie Rich and Jumpin' Gene Simmons. In the late '60s, Mitchell and the band cut back on their touring schedule, to focus more on the work at Royal Studio. By 1970, Mitchell had taken over the operation of Hi Records and began to reshape the company into a full-fledged R&B label. With Mr. Hodges serving as the group's linchpin and Mitchell's creative muse, the producer would make momentous innovations in the studio and on record. In their melding of jazz chords and R&B beats, sophisticated strings and melodic brass arrangements, Mitchell and his men changed the sound and feel of the music in the 'Me Decade,' moving it from the dance floor to the bedroom. They would, as author Peter Guralnick noted, 'take soul music…to quiet, luxuriantly appointed places it had never been before.' By the time Hi Rhythm reached its mid-'70s peak, their work with Green and others had yielded a remarkable run of gold and platinum albums and chart hits. In 1976, Hi Rhythm cut its own little-remembered but fiercely funky LP, On The Loose, which found Teenie, Charles and Archie Turner handling vocal duties. But, the following year, Hi Records was sold to Southern label mogul Alvin Bennett (who also purchased the remains of the bankrupt Stax) and in the transition to new ownership -- as well as the loss of Al Green to the church -- the studio band broke-up. 'After that, I kinda stopped playing for a couple years,' said Mr. Hodges. Mr. Hodges would return to music by 1979 and continued playing throughout the '80s and '90s, working with bluesman Albert Collins, touring Japan with Otis Clay, and periodically reforming the Hi Rhythm Section. In 2005, he began working with indie-pop chanteuse Cat Power, as part of her Memphis Rhythm Band. Mr. Hodges continued playing sessions in and around Memphis, largely at Royal Studios. Over the last few years, he worked with a range of artists including Sam Moore, Boz Scaggs, Mark Ronson, and his nephew, the rap star Drake. Several generations of Memphis guitarists would bow at his altar, marveling at the purity of Mr. Hodges' artistry. 'He'd set up at the studio and I would expect him to come with a vintage telecaster and Fender amp,' said Memphis guitarist Steve Selvidge, who worked on recording sessions with Mr. Hodges. 'He would come with anything but that; he'd have these outlandish convention-defying guitars. Then he would plug in and play and it all clicked. It was always Teenie, no matter what guitar or amp he was using. The sound was in his head and his hands. He had an intuitive sense of what worked.' 'His guitar style personified Memphis music,' said the North Mississippi Allstars' Luther Dickinson. 'It was sophisticated and funky, joyful yet blue. ' In more recent years, Mr. Hodges had been the subject of a documentary by filmmaker Susanna Vapnek. Starting in 2008, Vapnek spent several years shooting Hodges in and around his Memphis home base, interviewing family, friends and collaborators, capturing recording sessions and piecing together a narrative of his life. Titled 'Mabon 'Teenie' Hodges: A Portrait of A Memphis Soul Original', the film would receive raves, screening at film festivals in Austin, Nashville, Santa Barbara, and in Hodges' hometown, where it was presented during the 2013 edition of the Indie Memphis Film Festival. The lovingly crafted documentary would prove a testament to Hodges' legacy as a songwriter. In addition to Green, Hodges wrote with the team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter, penning the Sam & Dave number 'I Take What I Want,' and would see his material covered by an amazing array of artists -- everyone from Welsh belter Tom Jones to reggae legends Toots and the Maytals -- over the course of his lifetime. One of the documentary's funniest moments comes as Hodges lists the names of all the artists who covered his 'Take Me to the River' (the Talking Heads, Annie Lennox, Tina Turner), before noting that the use of the tune by the animatronic singing toy 'Big Mouth Billy Bass' had produced the biggest royalties. 'What a world, what a world,' Mr. Hodges would note, laughing at the brilliant absurdity of the situation. Mr. Hodges continued to perform with Hi Rhythm up until this spring, helping promote a new film, 'Take Me to the River' -- a cross-generational, cross-genre music documentary named after his most famous composition. Reflecting on his life and career in 2007, Mr. Hodges demurred when asked about his great gifts and contributions. 'I just feel blessed to have been doing it this long,' he said. 'I didn't have nothing to do with it, really, God did it. But, yes, I do feel blessed I was able to make this music and make a lot of people happy.' *Article from The Commercial Appeal - June 23, 2014 - by Bob Mehr. ************************************************************************************************************************************************ UPDATE 06/26 *Visitations will be held Friday, July 4th from 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. at Harold Ford Funeral Chapel, 1638 Sycamore View Road, Memphis, TN 38134 with a second visitation from 3-7 p.m. at New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, 7786 Poplar Pike, Germantown TN 38138.  Funeral services will be held Saturday, July 5th at 11 a.m. at New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church, 7786 Poplar Pike, Germantown TN 38138.  Burial in New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery. Harold Ford Funeral Chapel, 1638 Sycamore View Rd., Memphis, TN 38134, Tel. (901) 379-0861 E-mail:


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