If you’re one of those who has to find organization in the midst of chaos, you could divide the history of Hi Records into roughly three parts, defined by three artists. The first would be marked by the instrumental hits, primarily recorded by either the Bill Black Combo or Ace Cannon. The third, and most commercially successful period, was the run of hits by Al Green in the early 70’s. But in between, the man who bridged those dissimilar chapters would step out from behind the board to the other side of the glass, and be the star on his share of hits from the 60’s.
Folk music enjoyed a revival of sorts in the mid 20th century. Springing from the Greenwich Village epicenter of the movement in the late 40‘s, The Weavers were among the first to gain acclaim by making socially conscious statements with their original compositions, and breathing new life into older songs from diverse sources.
From early on Memphis musicians have had no problem making a statement without the encumbrance of words. As a young man, W.C. Handy found music in the wordless sounds of the tapping of shovels, as his co-workers wove complicated rhythms to pass the time on the shovel brigade at a Florence, Alabama iron furnace. His musical genius allowed him to distil the sounds he discovered while touring the rural south. The essence he extracted enabled Handy to refine the music he described as “not really annoying or unpleasant…” but “perhaps haunting,” into a palatable form which found appeal to new audiences. If not the actual birth of the blues, it was at least the assignment of a birth certificate.