Classic Music Archives #1: Slim Harpo 

Numerous blogs review new music, so I’d like to review some old goodies. A friend turned me onto this song, and I was struck from the first vocal line. It embodies a lot of early rock and roll elements. With some brief info about the players on this tune, I hope to elucidate how it came together.

The lead singer, Slim Harpo, was given that nickname because he played harmonica, or harp. While he owned a trucking business in the 1960’s to make ends meet, his songs have been covered by The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and Pink Floyd. The spirit of his music, which had slight Country and Western flavors alongside good-time Saturday night blues likability, made it easy for other musicians to emulate. Perhaps it’s because it lacked the darker, groudy, overtly sexual elements or the brooding-in-poverty hopelessness of some blues music that it was able to be adopted by Caucasian musicians– or perhaps Slim found a universal groove appealing to all people. I would like to think it’s the latter, but surely there’s some sociology for thought!

The song was reportedly recorded in 1967 (who knows, maybe Slim had to go do a trucking job the next day, which is important to remember in context of him not being a full-time musician [despite major worthiness of that]), at Royal Recording Studio in Memphis, Tn. The city is the home of Beale Street, created around 1840 for shop owners along the Mississippi River, and peaked with activity during the 1920’s. While it still holds mystique for blues enthusiasts and tourists as a strong root of the blues genre, by the 1960’s “Beale became very run down and many stores closed.  In spite of being recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, Beale became a virtual ghost town.(historic-memphis.com)”. Therefore, 1967 in Memphis likely had boarded up shops while blues had blown away, beyond the city like tumbleweed…yet at least one studio was still recording blues music.

Personnel:
The guitarist, Mabon “Teenie” Hodges, was born in Tennessee (so perhaps this was a local gig for him). He went on to play on many of Al Green’s big hits. He co-wrote “Take Me to the River” and “Love and Happiness”. He married three times and had eight children, yet regrettably passed away just two years ago.

Here he is pictured, likely later in life, performing with oxygen tubes running. I chose this picture as it shows the clear dedication he had to performing, and his craft and expression.

Leroy “Flick” Hodges is the bassist, who remained fairly unknown throughout his career in the soul and R&B genres, yet the artist Cat Power snagged him for work on her 2006 Album The Greatest. Background: Cat Power was “discovered” in 1994 by a member of Sonic Youth and may have recorded her first two albums in one day (released in 1995 and 1996). About a decade after her initial entry into fame, this album The Greatest is a slow, moving journey that is kind of like Laura Nyro with some grounded country influences and a back-beat. The bass work by Hodges is thoughtful and deliberate.

Charles Hodges (Organ), continued playing throughout his life, which began in Memphis. He also wrote songs that went on to be performed by Al Green, as well as Tom Jones. Yes, he and Leroy and “Teenie” were brothers and also made up the “Hi Rhythm Section“, along with drummer Howard Grimes. This outfit, sometimes with additional musicians, was the house band for records in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

From a musical family, the three brothers got their start in music in their Dad’s band, the German Town Blue Dots. Germantown is a Southeast suburb of Memphis. Their familiarity with one another’s styles and ability to play fluidly together was possibly due to their brotherhood. The Hi Rhythm Section was known for a “distinctive, warm, swirling soul sound” and surely their musical prowess, as well as hard work and understanding of their genre, led to being part of 20 gold and platinum albums.

Howard Grimes, drums, is also from Memphis, so it’s interesting that this house band is a local band for this Slim Harpo track.

The Hi Rhythm Section released Perfect Gentlemen in 1994, and this item is currently not available on Amazon at the time of this article. Likely, only a few original copies exist. It also includes a fourth brother!

This  aesthetic is markedly different from the 1970’s when the spirit of soul was enigmatic, exciting and palatable. This can be seen in the cover of the album On The Loose, which may have been recorded in 1976 and released in 2012 on Fat Possum (if this is incorrect, someone please correct me).

My favorite quote about this band is that they’re a “skintight Memphis quartet”.

Far from being retired, the Hi Rhythm Section added to a local Chicago release in 1994. Syl Johnson, an R&B artist, released Back in the Game on Chicago’s Delmark Records. Purchase the album here to support a great and necessary record label.

Now we know about his rhythm section, but back to the man himself. Slim Harpo was born in Louisiana and after his parents died, he sought every musical opportunity he could. Initially performing as ‘Harmonica Slim’ and releasing one album under that name, he had to change his name when it was discovered there was another Harmonica Slim on the West Coast. His wife Lovelle, who he co-wrote a number of songs with, came up with the new name.

Six years before recording “I’ve Been a Good Thing for You”, Harpo’s song “Rainin’ in My Heart’ had made the Billboard Top 40 in the Summer of 1961. Three years before this track, the Rolling Stones covered his song “I’m a King Bee” on their 1964 self-titled debut. Just a year before this track, Harpo’s song “Baby Scratch My Back”, which he described as “an attempt at rock and roll for me” made the top 20.

Perhaps Slim walked out of the studio, past boarded up storefronts, back to his working life after cutting this song. One thing is for certain, he left his indelible mark of joy in his singing, even when singing a “sad” tune. It’s this ability to find joy in expression that makes Slim Harpo exceptional.

Sources:
Thank you wikipedia, for making it seem like I know what I am talking about, along with:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slim_Harpo
http://overdoseoffingalcocoa.blogspot.com/2009/01/otis-rush.html
http://historic-memphis.com/memphis-historic/beale/bealestreet.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teenie_Hodges
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leroy_Hodges
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat_Power
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Hodges
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hi_Rhythm_Section
https://www.amazon.com/Loose-Hi-Rhythm-Section/dp/B0089LT81O
http://www.delmark.com/delmark.674.htm
http://www.bluesharp.ca/legends/sharpo.html

Article by: Hannah Frank axis.contact@gmail.com

Photos and Images taken from the Internet, for educational purposes. If any issues, contact axis.contact@gmail.com.