Saturday, June 21, 2014

Hi Rhythm

Artist: Hi Rhythm
LP: On the Loose
Song: "Superstar"
[ listen ]

After leaving Huntsville on Wednesday afternoon, I headed south toward the little Alabama town of Arab, where there's a record store Ashley and Andy at Vertical House Records had told me about. Arab is a cute little place with a funny name that provides some humorous signage that makes it seem like the town segregates Middle Easterners, who have to use separate recreational facilities from everyone else. 

The Arab record store, called The Spinning Groove, would have been more aptly named The Scratchy Groove. Quite a few of the records I was excited to find there were so scratched up or moldy that I ended up putting them back in the bins for someone else to buy. Also, a water leak in the ceiling above the R-Z portion of the Soul/R&B section had pretty much completely ruined all those records. I tried to browse through them anyway, but the record covers were all moldy and stuck together and when I tried to pull them apart they would rip. Still, I found a few neat records starting with A-Q, including this 1976 LP by Hi Rhythm, also known as the Hi Rhythm Section at Hi Records in Memphis. 

Willie Mitchell, who ran the label in the 1970s, employed the Hi Rhythm Section for backing on releases by Al Green, Ann Peebles and others who recorded on the label. Hi Rhythm was comprised of three Hodges brothers—Charles, Leroy, and Mabon—along with Howard Grimes on drums and Mitchell's stepson, Archie Turner, on keyboards. Though Charles Hodges went on to become an ordained minister, the group does still get together from time to time. In fact, Archie Turner and Howard Grimes stopped by The End of All Music in Oxford, Mississippi two months agojust a few weeks after I was there on April 7th! They were in Oxford with their new group, The Bo-Keys, who are also going to be playing in Portland, Oregon on July 4th! You can read more about Hi Rhythm on Wikipedia here and go here to read about Hi Records. Individual photos of the Hi Rhythm guys from the back of their LP are included below, but I'm not sure who's who, aside from Howard Grimes. If anyone out there can clear this up, it would be appreciated.

PS. I was bummed to hear just now on NPR that Mabon "Teenie" Hodges passed away in Dallas, Texas this past Sunday, the day after I posted this LP. RIP Teenie Hodges, and condolences to all those who knew and loved him.

[ Hi Rhythm, relatively recently ]
L to R:
Leroy Hodges, Mabon "Teenie" Hodges, Archie Turner, Charles Hodges, Howard Grimes 
w/ Willie Mitchell (seated)

[ The Spinning Groove — Arab, Alabama ]

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Vinicio Franco

Artist: Vinicio Franco y su Conjunto Tipico Cibaeño
LP: Merengues — El Principe del Merengue
Song: "Tocame La Campana, Maria"
[ listen ]
Song: "La Chiva Blanca"
[ listen ]

Huntsville, Alabama is one of the friendliest cities in the South! I found Vertical House Records online while researching stores to visit on my trip. It looked amazing (it's located in part of the old Lowe Mill building), but to my chagrin, the store is only open Wednesday through Saturday, and I was going to be driving through northern Alabama on Monday and Tuesday. About a week before leaving Seattle, I called and left a message on the store's answering machine to let them know of my predicament and to see if there was any way I could browse through Vertical House Records on a day they're usually closed. I wasn't really expecting a reply, but thought it was worth a shot. I figured that if I did hear from anyone, it would probably be along the lines of: "Sorry to hear we'll miss you. Hope you'll come back through our neck of the woods sometime when we're open. We'd love to meet you!" Instead, within an hour I received a text message from the store's owners, Andy and Ashley. They were currently on vacation on Italy! They said they would be returning to Huntsville on the Monday during my trip and would be happy to meet me at their store on Tuesday afternoon! 

I arrived in Huntsville at about 6pm on that Tuesday, and Andy and Ashley were both there at Vertical House Records to meet me. Andy gave me a quick tour of the place, then let me dig through the bins while they were hanging out with a friend at the front of the store, drinking beer and listening to music. I joked with them about how awful it would be if, after everything, I browsed for two hours and then sauntered out the door saying, "Thanks, but I didn't really see anything here that caught my eye." But anyone who knows me will know that there wasn't any danger of that happening. In fact, I was only able to browse through the "International" section as well as the A—G part of the "General" section before hunger overtook me (and before I began to worry that I was going to keep Andy and Ashley there until midnight). Though I definitely feel the need to return to Vertical House to browse through H—Z, I found lots of wonderful stuff in the time I was there—like this merengue album by Vinicio Franco.

Born in September of 1933 in Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, Vinicio first began singing in nightclubs to entertain tourists in the mid-to-late 1950s; his first recording was made in 1957, titled either "Shut Me Sail" or "Shut Me Off the Candle," depending on which language translation tool you use. In a career spanning 60 years and counting, Vinicio Franco has performed in places like New York City and Miami in the USA, as well as throughout South America and Europe. Vinicio's "Merengue" LP, his first, was released in 1960. My copy, though not sealed, is in mint condition and was still in shrink-wrap, with a purple "Dominican Republic" ink stamp on the back! I especially like "La Chiva Blanca" ["The White Goat"], where Vinicio makes animal sounds. You can read more about Vinicio "El Principe del Merengue" Franco in Spanish here and here, and you'll find English-ish translation of the Wikipedia page here. There's a relatively recent video clip of Vinicio Franco performing here:

Vinicio Franco on YouTube:
[ "Los Algodones" ] 

 [ Vinicio Franco ]

[ Vertical House Records — Huntsville, Alabama ]