Lawrence ‘Boo’ Mitchell. Photo by Larry Crane, Tape Op Magazine
Here’s an epic interview with Royal Studio’s Lawrence ‘Boo’ Mitchell in this month’s issue of Tape Op Magazine. Boo gives a vibrant oral history of Royal Studios, Hi Records, and his father, the late Willie Mitchell, one of the greatest record producers in American musical history. He talks about what it was like to grow up watching his dad work with greats like Al Green, and his own development into one of the country’s hottest producers today – thanks in no small part to Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk”, the first #1 out of Memphis since “Disco Duck”, the first #1 out of Royal since “Let’s Stay Together”, and the first Memphis recording to ever win a Grammy for Record of the Year.
The article also provides an insight into the intersection of race and the recording business in Memphis in the 1950’s and 60’s, when Willie Mitchell was coming into his own as a producer and engineer. Hi Records started out as a white-owned rockabilly label, and engineer Ray Harris wouldn’t allow Mitchell, who was black, to touch the console, or even have his picture on his own record cover.
I think it was sometime around ‘64 that Ray Harris sent somebody to get something out of his car. The guy opens his trunk up, and there’s this fucking KKK outfit in his trunk. One of the black musicians was walking by, saw it, and knew. He was like, “What the fuck?” Pop had a meeting with Joe about Ray, like, “What are we going to do about Ray?” Joe said, “I don’t know.” Pop replied, “Let me buy him out.” So Pop bought Ray out. Pop told him, “Ray, I learned a lot from you.” Ray said, “What’s that?” Pop said, “Never cut a record like you cut it.”
It’s a fascinating interview for anyone interested in Memphis music and history, and anyone interested in the art of making soulful records.
In the interest of full-disclosure, I serve on the board of the Recording Academy Memphis Chapter with Boo, and I also consider him a dear personal friend. Congratulations to Boo and the Mitchell family as they celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Royal, and as they launch new ventures like Royal Records and Royal Radio. Love and happiness!