Celebrating the Launch of Royal Records in South Memphis

Royal Records Launch Block Party / Google Photos

In 1958, record store owner Joe Coughi of Poplar Tunes in Memphis decided to start a record label, and he named it Hi Records, with the name taken from the last two letters of his name. Purchasing the Royal Theater on South Lauderdale, he converted it into a recording studio (Jim Stewart would do the same thing a year later with the nearby Capitol Theater on McLemore Avenue in forming Stax Records), and began recording country and rockabilly records. When Ruben Cherry and Celia Hodge’s Home of the Blues family of labels collapsed in 1962, producer Willie Mitchell was briefly without a musical home, but he soon ended up producing for Coughi at the Royal Studios, which he eventually purchased. Hi Records soon moved from recording rockabilly and country to recording blues, soul and gospel, particularly the work of such greats as Al Green, O.V. Wright, Don Bryant, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay and Syl Johnson. The Hi label was eventually sold to Al Bennett in California, but the Royal Studios continued under Willie Mitchell. As Stax collapsed and the Memphis recording industry with it, Royal continued on, and today, under Willie Mitchell’s son Boo, has become a world-famous institution. So it was only fitting that Royal Sound Studios should celebrate with a block party for the surrounding South Memphis neighborhood on the street now called Willie Mitchell Boulevard, and all the more so as Boo Mitchell announces to the world the launch of Royal Records, a label based out of the venerable Memphis studios. The first act for the fledgling label is a rap duo called Lil Riah and Key Money, both of whom are members of the Mitchell family, and who were the featured performers at the block party. But attendees also enjoyed performances by Memphis veterans Al Kapone and Frayser Boy as well as the Royal Studio Band, and there was plenty of good food from local food trucks, including hand-crafted ice cream pops from the good folks at Mempops. Even Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland came to pay his respects.

Lebanon’s @WantonBishops Record In Memphis at @RoyalStudios


It’s a long way from Beirut to Memphis, and Lebanon is definitely not the first place you think of when it comes to blues, but that didn’t stop the Wanton Bishops, a Beirut-based blues/rock band, some of whose members had met outside a well-known Beirut blues bar. After several years of growing popularity in Lebanon, Turkey and France, the Bishops started gaining attention from American audiences as well. Sponsored by Red Bull, the Wanton Bishops ended their triumphant appearance at South By Southwest in Austin with a journey up Highway 61 from New Orleans to Memphis by way of Clarksdale, documented by a film crew. Perhaps the apotheosis of that journey was a recording session in a most appropriate place, Boo Mitchell’s legendary Royal Studios in South Memphis, the place where classic recordings were made by Al Green, Otis Clay, Syl Johnson, O. V. Wright and many others. For young, blues-loving men from the Middle East, it must have seemed like the dream of a lifetime. Although it took all day, it resulted in one perfect song, and some lasting memories.

SXSW Day 5: Discussing Memphis Music and “Take Me To The River’ @ALKaponeMEM @MemphisMeansMusic


After a fairly late breakfast at Magnolia Cafe, I headed over to the Austin Convention Center to meet my friend Travis McFetridge, who had an afternoon panel. I was torn, because I wanted to see his panel, but I also wanted to attend the Memphis Music panel which Al Kapone was on, so I ended up going to the second one. This panel, held in conjunction with the Martin Shore film Take Me To The River, featured Al Kapone, Boo Mitchell, Cody Dickinson, Booker T. Jones, Frayser Boy, William Bell and Al Bell, and was sponsored by the Memphis Music Foundation. MY homeboy Miscellaneous was not on the panel, but was in the audience. Noted author Robert Gordon was the moderator.

Rock Legend Paul Rodgers Celebrates the Release of His Memphis Album at @StaxMemphis


It’s a fairly long way from England to South Memphis, and seems an equally long distance from classic rock ‘n roll to soul music and blues, but former Free and Bad Company Paul Rodgers was heavily influenced by the blues and decided to give back to Memphis when he cut his most recent album The Royal Sessions. Recorded at Boo Mitchell’s historic Royal Studios in South Memphis, Rodgers’ most recent effort is backed by the Memphis All-Stars, a band largely coterminous with the Hi Rhythm Section, including Teenie Hodges, the Rev. Charles Hodges, Archie Turner and Michael Toles, and features largely tunes pulled from the catalog of Stax’s venerable old East Memphis Music publishing, such as Albert King’s “Down Don’t Bother Me”, William Bell’s “Born Under A Bad Sign” and Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You.” Rodger is only the latest of several high-profile artists to choose to cut albums in Memphis at the legendary studio where Al Green cut his hits, but what Rodgers did afterward was truly unique- he decided to give all the proceeds to the Stax Music Academy, which makes a difference in South Memphis by training kids in music, improving the neighborhood, the Memphis music scene and the future of soul music all at the same time.
On Saturday, a release party was held at the Stax Museum to celebrate the album’s release, drawing what appeared to be the largest crowd ever to an album release party at the museum. The line stretched well around the building at 6 PM, and in the old Studio A, it was standing room only, as people came to understand that Paul Rodgers would actually perform four songs from the album with the Memphis-All-Stars. Afterwards there was even a longer line for people to have their purchased discs signed by Rodgers and the other musicians, but it was well worth it, and great to see the legacies of Stax and Hi Records intertwined in this way.

Memphis Music Holiday Party at @MinglewoodHall @MemMeansMusic


On Tuesday December 16, the Memphis Music Foundation and the Memphis Chapter of The Recording Academy sponsored a Memphis Music Holiday Party at the 1884 Lounge of Minglewood Hall in Midtown. The event featured some great barbecue and desserts, as well as live music from the Steven Lee Trio featuring trumpeter Johnny Yancey and his son, drummer Nigel Yancey, and the Hill Country blues inflected rock band Turchi. Over a hundred people came to get in the festive spirit, including legendary producer Boo Mitchell and Elizabeth Montgomery of Ardent Records.

The Stars of Memphis Music Come Out at Opening Night of On Location Memphis (@OLM_trailer)

The 14th Annual On Location Memphis International Film and Music Festival kicked off last night with an opening reception at the Paradiso theatre in East Memphis, with music provided by Singa Bromfield.
After the reception was a 20-minute sneak preview of an upcoming documentary by Martin Shore and Boo Mitchell called The Memphians, which is a film documenting a series of recording sessions in which old-school greats like Otis Clay and Bobby Rush were brough together with rappers like Lil P-Nut, Eightball & MJG and Frayser Boy. This film, along with Dan Greer’s Ole Beale Street Revue which was shown afterwards, brought out many of the living stars of Memphis music, including Boo Mitchell and several other Mitchell family members, the Rev. Darryl Carter, the Rev. Charles Hodges, Bobby Rush, Frayser Boy, Dan Greer, Edward “Hot” Cleveland and Larry Dodson of the Bar-Kays. On Location resumes today at noon at Studio on the Square in Overton Sqaure, and the the first music showcases get underway tonight at Purple Haze at Second and Lt. George W. Lee Avenue.