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American Routes Shortcuts: Rev. Charles Hodges & Hubbie Turner

Hi Rhythm.jpeg
Hi Rhythm

The Hi Rhythm Section began as brothers and friends.  The Hodges brothers: Teenie on guitar, Leroy, bass, and Charles on organ; joined by Howard Grimes, drums and "Hubbie" Turner on piano.  The brothers grew up in a musical family.  They joined their father's blues band, the Germantown Blue Dots.  Hubbie Turner's mother was married to producer Willie Mitchell and was friends with the Hodges brothers who all became Willie Mitchell's band.  In the late 60s, when Mitchell moved from playing clubs to producing in studios, they changed their name to Hi Rhythm Section.  We had a chance to sit down with friends. Rev. Charles Hodges and Hubbie Turner, to talk about working in the studio with "Poppa Willie" Mitchell.  After playing a high school talent show, Rev. Hodges started out on the road with Memphis soul singer O.V. Wright.

Rev. Charles Hodges: I had to back him up because his guitar player didn't show up. So, I knew his songs and I played his songs. That was on a Friday night, and on a Monday, I was like a star out in my school. That night he said, "When you get out of school, I want you to go on the road with me.” I said, "Okay, right." Sure enough, a couple of years later, he comes down to Flamingo Room. That was one of the clubs that all the main acts worked at: Willie Mitchell, Gene "Bowlegs" Miller, some all the big bands. He come in, and he said, "Are you Charles Hodges?" Because I can't see 'cause we're on stage, we're rehearsing, they have the lights on, and I said, "Yeah.” I said, "Who are you?” He said, "O.V. Wright,” I said, "Yeah, right,” just like that. So, his cousin was the manager of the group that I was playing with. He said, "Yes, it is,” said "That's O.V." So, he comes over there, and then I see him; I said, "Oh man, okay." He said, "Are you out of school yet?" I said, "Yeah, I'm out." So, he said, "Well you ready to go?" I said, "Go where?" He said, "I'm getting ready to go to Macon, Georgia. I gotta perform there on Friday night." That was on a Wednesday night. I said, "I don't know, I'm confused now." I talked with the group, and they gave me their blessings. Told me to go head on, man, you know? Said, "Hey, you got a chance." So, he said, "Do you have a car?" I said, "No." He said, "Where you live? You still live in Germantown?" and I said, "Yep." He said, "Well, come on," he said, "I'll take you out there." So, we go home and my mom and dad, the only two sitting up in the living room when I get there, and my dad said, "I thought you was at rehearsal?" I said, "I was," I said, "But, uh, this is O.V. Wright," I said, "He brought me home. He wants me to go on the road with him." When I said 'O.V. Wright' my mom jumped up and started hollering and screaming. [laughs]

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Nick Spitzer: Let me ask you this: when you were playing in some of those clubs around there, I mean, could you set the scene? The Flamingo Club, the Tiki Club, what were those places like?

Hubbie Turner: Oh man, they was tremendous. I mean, it was the source of our income, for one thing, in high school, and man, we was-, back then a loaf of bread was like, what? Twenty-five cents? [laughs] We made a hundred bucks; we was rich.

NS: That's a lot of bread.

HT: Anyway, the clubs, they were on every- you know, Beale Street man, it was all up and down Beale Street. My grandfather lived on Beale Street right behind the New Daisy Theater. So, when I was a kid, he used to take us down there all the time. I was too young to play it then, but I was influenced by all the musicians. Like, uh, the piano- the famous piano player.

NS: Memphis Slim?

HT: Yeah, Memphis Slim. All that was working on Beale Street during that time. So, I was influenced by listening to all those sounds, and my grandfather stayed right next to- right next to the New Daisy, so, I was right in the heart of everything, you know?

NS: That's a good spot to be.

HT: Yeah, then we had other clubs, like... over there by Stax Records, clubs like the Tiki Club, Willie had the Manhattan Club, which was Elvis Presley's favourite hangout during the early days of Graceland, before Graceland was Graceland. That was his favourite spot. This was an all-white club in the heart of a black neighborhood. Elvis just comes in there all the time, you know. He always wanted Willie to play for his parties.

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To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.