Royal Blue ...
Irving Music, Inc. BMI
A. Green & M. Hodges
Irving Music, Inc./obo Al Green Music, Inc. BMI
- If I could Reach Out
Screen Gems-EMI Music, Inc. BMI
- Back For A Taste Of Your Love
D. Carter, S. Johnson & B. Johnson
Irving Music, Inc. BMI
- Turn Me On
Sony/ATV Acuff Rose Music BMI
- Heartbreak Hotel
M.B. Axton, T. Durden & E. Presley
Sony/ATV Tree Publishing BMI
- You're So Fine
J.P. Daniel & R. Younger
John Paul Daniel Music ASCAP
Fabskat Music BMI
B. Blue & J. Henry
BIG Bad Music BMI
- Too Late
BIG Bad Blue Music BMI
- All You've Got
B. Blue & R. "Nighthawk" Tooms
BIG Bad Blue Music BMI
- 8 Men & 4 Women
Songs of Universal, Inc. BMI
- Going Back To Iuka
Irving Music, Inc. BMI
- Let's Stay Together
W. Mitchell, A. Green & A. Jackson
Bug Music/obo Al Jackson Jr. Music BMI
Irving Music, Inc. BMI
Irving Music, Inc/obo Al Green Music, Inc. BMI
Memphis is the Mecca of recorded music for fans as interested in myth as in music. Although time has collapsed most of the shrines of the glorious sounds of the past, one tiny studio “Royal” still stands proudly as a testament to its prominence in pop culture. The working studio is a literal time capsule; it has changed little physically since it began operating in 1959. Its small, homey room is Shakti itself, containing vibrations from thousands of notes that converged into hundreds of hit records. The cosmic energy can literally be felt, silently enveloping anyone standing within its aura willing to absorb its flow.
Royal will always be best remembered as the recording home of Willie Mitchell, respectfully called “Poppa” or simply “Pops,” who passed away in January 2010. Pops was a maestro, an award-winning producer/musician/recording artist—the consummate professional, humble and personable—admired by the biggest names in the music industry who visited his unpretentious studio to pay homage to the man who made so many hit records.
I first met Poppa Willie in the mid-Fifties when I was teenager dancing to his band’s live music. Years later while working as a journalist, I’d visit him on an assignment. I could find him almost any afternoon about one o’clock holding court at Royal Recording behind a metal gate ironically enclosing the reception room.
Strangely enough Pops was more interested in listening to my family stories about the history of the Royal building than in being interviewed. He learned my grandfather’s WW I draft card showed the building was named the Shamrock (housing the Royal Theater) when listed as his place of business. Royal is one block south of Trigg Avenue (roughly three miles south of downtown), which was the city limits in the 1920’s. The Capitol Theatre, about a mile away, was twice the size of the Royal. The Capitol also became a recording studio and was renamed Stax. The two converted movie theatres were the oases for recording American soul music in the Sixties.
Royal also had a connection with Elvis Presley, whose cousins lived across the street from my grandparents in 1947. They were allowed into the Royal free and watched many matinees within Royal’s walls. Elvis wasn’t Elvis then, so it didn’t matter much to anybody that he was there.
Pops and Elvis became friends years later when Pops’ band played at Elvis’s private parties. Elvis also loved listening to Hi’s records, but for some reason never recorded at Royal. There was never an Elvis song cut at Royal either, until Barbara Blue came along and recorded a hauntingly impressive rendition of “Heartbreak Hotel.”
I met Barbara at Silky O’Sullivan’s nightclub on Beale Street one Sunday afternoon at the urging of Adalah Bennett Show, the owner of Hi Records, following Willie Mitchell’s reign. “Barbara’s the best singer in town,” Adalah insisted: “She’s forceful, passionate, brazen, sassy and makes the audience wild.” It took hearing only one song for me to agree.
A native of Pittsburgh, PA, BB discovered on a visit to Memphis that her favorite records were cut here and fell in love with the city’s funky, southern lifestyle. Barbara paid five dollars to sing a song with the dueling piano players at Silky O’Sullivan’s, and when the Silky asked her to wait until his lovely wife Joellyn arrived to perform again, she agreed, and they hired her on the spot. Fourteen years later Barbara Blue has performed a historical amount of gigs on Beale Street.
It was almost a certainty that Barbara and Willie Mitchell would eventually pair up on an album. In 2007 BB asked her sax man Lannie McMillan (long time Royal sax man and close associate of Pops) to take her to meet Mr. Mitchell and talk about producing her next CD. “I took him my records,” she remembers. “We met a few times talked about possible songs we could do. At last he shook my hand and said, ‘I’ll produce your next record.’ I couldn’t believe it. Willie’s heath problems started after that, so we never got to it.”
That’s where Willie’s son, Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, stepped in. Boo had sat at the controls along side Pops almost since he was old enough to see the top of the board. More importantly, Boo had absorbed the instincts and nuisances of the maestro producer and his ability to configure some of the best musicians in the South with some of the top singers in the world. “Boo was phenomenal,” says Barbara. “He was the perfect person to take over the project.
Royal Blue is dedicated to Willie Mitchell and every note is an honest homage to him the man and his music the legend. You can hear the love everyone has for Pops in every note.”
It is obviously the intent of Royal Blue to capture the vintage sound of Royal Recording—the simple, honest-to-the-core integrity and romantic intimacy that are uncompromisingly evident when the records are played even decades later. There is, however, something more—an ease and flawless satisfaction one senses when music is created just for the sake of love.
Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell
Barbara Blue Productions
Silky & Joellyn Sullivan
Royal Studios, Memphis, TN
Engineering & Mixing
Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell
L. Nix & Co., Inc.
Inside Ardent Studios, Memphis, TN
John Henry Art Photography
Lester Snell ~ Fender Rhodes, B3 Hammond Organ & Acoustic Piano
Skip Pitts ~ Guitar Rhythm & Lead
Steve Potts ~ Drums
Dave Smith ~ Bass
Lannie McMillan ~ Tenor Sax
Gary Topper ~ Tenor Sax
Marc Franklin ~ Trumpet
Jim Spake ~ Baritone Sax
Special Track Acknowledgements:
Lester Snell ~ Piano tack # 13
Lannie McMillan ~ All Horn Arrangements & Tenor Sax Solo track # 10 & 13,
Marc Franklin ~ Trumpet track #9
Robert “Nighthawk” Tooms ~ Harmonica tracks # 7 & 11
Brandon Bailey ~ Harmonica track #11 & 12
Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell ~ Various Percussion multi tracks
Barbara Blue ~ Tambourine track #4 & Vibro slap track #1
Josh Roberts ~ Slide Guitar track # 12 & Guitar track #11
Preston Shannon ~ Guitar track #9
Cody Dickenson ~ Electric Washboard track # 2
Daunielle “Pie” Hill
Special thanks goes out to:
Mr. Willie “Pops” Mitchell for his love of music, his family and raising such a talented son to keep his legacy alive and continue to create great soulful Memphis music. Love you Boo! I am overwhelmed with joy, respect and gratitude for the time we spent together creating this music.
All of the talented musicians especially Mr. Lannie McMillan for introducing me to “Pops” and his impeccable horn charts, Mr. Lester Snell for his perfect ears, fingers, chord charts and adaptations, Mr. Skip Pitts for just being his entertaining self and laying down smoking guitar tracks, and last but certainly not least the “Glue” Mr. Dave Smith and Mr. Steve Potts who work together like a fine oiled greeeasy machine…..
Also, Silky & Joellyn Sullivan, for 14 years of constant PR work and their financial support of this Independent Artist. Mr. Arlie for keeping all the queens in line and in proper accessories! Mother Rose, Sister Kathy & Omar for their love & support
Last, but never least, Nancy Apple for her big heart, priceless friendship and outstanding numerous artistic talents. And the lovely Ms. Memphis herself, Rose Clayton Phillips for her historical and eloquent liner notes.
Barbara Blue “Royal Blue”. Big Blue 2010. Desde la meca de la buena música en Memphis y, a pesar de que ya no estemos en las épocas gloriosas de los estudios de grabación como Sun Records, todavía quedan algunos reductos en los que se hacen maravillas con el sonido. Un magnifico ejemplo lo tenemos en este nuevo y último trabajo de la brava y siempre impresionante vocalista Barbara Blue, que ha grabado este cd en los excelentes y profesionales Royal Studios de Memphis, TN. El resultado es fabuloso y suena de lujo. Un disco brillante y ambicioso, con una producción impecable a cargo de Laurence ‘Boo’ Mitchell y la propia Barbara que lo co-produce. Los temas incluyen unos arreglos musicales de enorme factura y fundada belleza instrumental, todo a base de ‘metales’ impecables rebosantes de vitalidad, amén de las exquisitas voces en ‘background’ a cargo de Daunielle ‘Pie’ Hill y Jackie Johnson. Barbara ataca de forma magistral todas y cada una de las trece composiciones aquí incluidas, paseándose con opulencia y satisfacción por géneros musicales que conoce a la perfección, como el soul, el rhythm and blues de New Orleans, baladas o southern funk. Octavo álbum en la carrera de Barbara y hasta el momento, el mejor de todos ellos. MUY BUENO.
(Translation) From the center of good music in Memphis and, although there no longer exist such glorious recording studios like were Sun Records, there still are some hidden places where they keep and do marvellous recording treasures. One good example is this new late work of brave and always impressive singer Barbara Blue, who has recorded it in the excellent professional Royal Studios in Memphis, TN. The result is she has got a fabulous deluxe sound. A bright ambitious album, with the faultless production of Laurence 'Boo' Mitchell and Barbara herself who has also co-produced it. All songs include splendid musical arrangements of an instrumental beauty, based on perfect vitalistic horns, besides the exquisite background voices of Daunielle 'Pie' Hill and Jackie Johnson. Barbara mastery performs every one of the thirteen songs included in the cd, walking with a luxury satisfaction and self-confidence arund different musical genres she perfectlu knows, like soul, New Orleans rhythm and blues, ballads or southern funk. This is her eighth album Barbara has published and I dare say it is the best one so far. GREAT.
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Willie Mitchell had promised Barbara Blue that he would produce her next CD, an exciting prospect for any singer to imagine, especially so for one with the talent Ms. Blue possesses. Unfortunately, Mitchell’s health began to fail and he was unable to even start the project. He eventually passed away in January of 2010. However, all was not lost as Mitchell’s son, Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell stepped in to assume production duties and the project proceeded at Mitchell’s fabled Royal Studios. The result, Royal Blue (Big Blue Records), is like stepping back in time to the glory days of Hi Records.
Ms. Blue is joined by a crack Memphis band with roots to those storied days…..Lester Snell (keyboards), Skip Pitts (lead and rhythm guitar), Steve Potts (drums), and Dave Smith (bass), and you can’t have a Memphis soul and blues recording without a horn section (Lannie McMillan and Gary Topper – tenor sax; Marc Franklin – trumpet; Jim Spake – baritone sax). There’s also a boatload of guest stars on various tracks, including Preston Shannon on guitar, harmonica players Robert “Nighthawk” Tooms and Brandon Bailey, Cody Dickenson and his amazing electric washboard, and slide guitarist Josh Roberts.
When those horns kick in on the opening tune, “Beware,” you’ll feel the goose bumps starting if you’re a fan of that old time Memphis soul. “Beware” is one of many songs covered on Royal Blue with origins in the Bluff City. Pitts breaks out the waka-waka guitar for a tasty cover of Al Green’s “Rhymes,” and Blue does a smooth-as-glass take of Syl Johnson’s “Back For A Taste of Your Love.” Other Memphis covers of note include “If I Could Reach Out,” the O. V. Wright standard, “8 Men & 4 Women.”
Blue also penned several tracks on the disc, including “Blue,” which sounds like it was penned back in the day….a nice addition to the Memphis soul catalog. “All You Got,” is a straight blues track that teams Blue with Robert “Nighthawk” Tooms’ harmonica and Josh Roberts’ guitar. “Too Late” features Preston Shannon on guitar.
Blue also re-invents a pair of familiar classics. “Heartbreak Hotel” is transformed into a soul number, complete with horns, background vocals, and some sweet guitar licks, courtesy of Skip Pitts. “Let’s Stay Together,” the Al Green classic, is stripped down to Snell’s piano, McMillan’s tenor sax, and Blue’s vocals.
Mitchell’s production is first-rate. Based on this disc, it’s obvious that the future of Memphis blues and soul is in good hands. “Poppa” would be proud of his efforts. Come to think of it, he’d be proud of Barbara Blue’s efforts, too. She continues to amaze and impress with each release. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and check Ms. Blue out at Silky O’Sullivan’s, but if you can’t make it to Memphis, pick up Royal Blue. It’s the next best thing to being there.
Ms. Barbara Blue is a Memphis original, even if she was born in Pittsburgh, PA.
Holding court at Silky O’Sullivan’s Pub on Beale Street some 5 nights a week for the last 13 years, Ms. Blue has released seven albums in that time, the last three all Live recordings.
This week, her 8th album will drop. It is called ROYAL BLUE and it is a winner.
Recorded at the famous Royal Studios here in Memphis (the history of this studio is fodder for a post of its own), with Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell as producer, the album is a throwback to those great blues records of old.
Barbara’s band includes; Lester Snell on Fender Rhodes, B3 Hammond Organ and Acoustic Piano; Skip Pitts on Guitar Rhythm and Lead; Steve Potts on Drums and Dave Smith on Bass.
Additionally she has brought in Lannie McMillan and Gary Topper on Tenor Sax; Marc Franklin on Trumpet and Jim Spake on Baritone Sax.
She then sprinkles in some fabulous special guests including Robert “Nighthawk” Tooms on Harmonica (tracks # 7 and 10); Brandon Bailey on Harmonica (tracks #11 and 12); Josh Roberts on Slide Guitar (track # 12) & Guitar (track #11); Preston Shannon on Guitar (track #9); and Cody Dickenson on Electric Washboard (track # 2).
Background vocals are supplied by Daunielle “Pie” Hill and Jackie Johnson.
This is a true collection of blues, funk and soul. On the album, Ms. Blue has writing credit on 3 of the 13 tracks. The other 10 are classics she has put her own spin to.
The horn section gives a tremendous layering to the entire album with stand-out tracks including “If I Could Reach Out (And Touch Somebody)” and the opening tune “Beware”.
I found her take on the Al Green penned song “Rhymes”, as a wonderful tribute to the great man.
She takes the Syl Johnson song “Back For A Taste Of Your Love” and gives it a feel Jonny Lang misses, in this writers opinion.
You have to have total confidence in your abilities to take on “Heartbreak Hotel”, especially being from Memphis. Ms. Blue slows the number down and adds big horns and some tasty guitar licks by Skip Pitts and turns it into a brand new song.
Ms. Blue takes ownership of every song she sings, but even more so on her original tunes. “Blue” starts off the trio and seems autobiographical in nature. A fine example of Memphis Blues.
One of my favorite cuts on the album is the song “All You’ve Got” which was written by Ms. Blue along with Robert “Nighthawk” Tooms. Robert is the keyboard and harmonica player from the Reba Russell Band and it is some fine listening to hear him collaborate with Ms. Blue and add his sweet harmonica playing to this track.
Other songs on the album include “Your So Fine”; the J.D. Loudermilk tune “Turn Me On” on which Ms. Blue shows off her vocal chops on a sweet bluesy ode; “8 Men and 4 Women”; another Barbara Blue original “Too Late”; “Going Back To Iuka” and the final song on the album “Let’s Stay Together” penned by Al Green, Willie “Pops” Mitchell and Al Jackson.
Her interpretation will just send you soaring as high as Ms. Blue’s vocals on the song. This is as close to a capella as you come, with only minimal piano and some tasty horn work during the breaks.
Want to listen to a true Memphis soul but can’t afford to get in your car or jump on a plane or train, then click on over to Barbara Blue’s website and purchase Royal Blue. As a bonus, Ms. Blue autographs every album bought on her website.
But my suggestion IS to get in your car, jump that plane or train and get yourself down to Silky's and watch this stellar artist live and full force.
5 out of 5 Turntables