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Memphis Magic: The Al Green Sound

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The drum tracks on Al Green's singles are the work of two drummers. Jackson works with Howard Grimes, the man Willie brought in to replace him in 1967. Often, one drummer will play only his snare and tom-toms while the other plays his hi-hat cymbal with both hands. But Willie always mixes the two drummers together on one track. "Al and Howard will be sitting back there in the drum booth," he says, "and sometimes I won't be able to tell which one is playing, they sound so much alike. But I never use more than two mikes on the drums, even when both of them are playing. The placement of those mikes has a lot to do with the sound. So does the tuning of the snares. So does the studio. But I always ride the drums and the bass. They're like the wheels of the car; the rest of the instruments are secondary."

The Hodges brothers – bassist Leroy, organist Charles and guitarist Teenie – make up the rest of the band. Though they are all relative youngsters, they have been with Willie ten years. Don Bryant, a staff songwriter who has worked with the band longer than anyone except Willie, says that, "Willie had been looking for the sound he has for a long time. He hand-picked the boys in the band and raised them himself. I guess he was looking for this sound then, and he molded them into the sound he wanted. That's the reason they call him Papa Willie; he sticks with 'em until he gets it like he wants it."

"Little Teenie Hodges," Willie chuckles. "Teenie came to my house one night drunk off wine. He wasn't but about 16 or 17. He came in the kitchen and told me he could play guitar. I had to hear him; he played really horrible guitar. I told Teenie, why don't you come on and move in with me. He had been going to school out in Cordoba, Tennessee. So Teenie stayed three years. I used to get off the gig at two in the morning and go and get him up and say, come on in here and let me show you how to play these runs. About three years later I put him in the band."

Teenie and Al Green often write together; their "Here I Am" is Al's most recent hit, and "Love And Happiness" and "I'm A Ram" were also Green/ Hodges collaborations. ."Teenie is a star," says a fellow Memphis session player. "He's the creative force in the band, next to Willie, and does he dress! Claudia Lennear was in town mixing a while back and everybody was looking at her with their eyes bugging out. And then Teenie walked in wearing some kind of emerald green threads; he was looking so beautiful he just blew her away."

"I think Al picked up a lot of his moves from Teenie," adds another sessionman. "His cousin was a session player for Motown, and he used to come down from Detroit and cop Teenie's licks when Teenie was playing in road-houses for 20 bucks a night."

Al Green has the last word on Teenie Hodges: "He doesn't play a lot of music but what he plays is sophisticated. He'll play a little guitar, just a taste, but it means so much 'cause he puts it in the right place."

Willie, the two Als and the Hodges brothers agree that "the right place" is the old Royal Theater. When Hi's first president, the late Joe Cuighi, found the Royal in 1957 it was an abandoned movie house. Cuighi paid its owner, a widow named Mrs. Frisbee, $50-a-month rent and installed makeshift recording equipment. Today, an additional studio and a series of offices for Hi's staff are under construction on the lot. There is a new 24-track board, which Willie is using principally for mixing. The board is housed in a glassed-in room, formerly a projection booth, which overlooks the studio proper.

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