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Memphis Soul Legend Teenie Hodges Dies at 68

Teenie Hodges
Fan Club Films

Mabon “Teenie” Hodges, the guitarist for the house band at Memphis’ Hi Records, has passed away at the age of 68. He died of complications of emphysema last night (June 22) at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.

Hodges had been hospitalized since March, when he contracted pneumonia while at the South by Southwest conference in Austin. The news was confirmed by Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, the grandson of Hi founder Willie Mitchell. “It’s a huge blow to Memphis music. Teenie was an icon — as a songwriter and a guitarist. Guitarists all around the world loved and imitated his playing. But Teenie… man, he was one of a kind,” he told the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Along with drummers Al Jackson, Jr., and Harold Grimes, pianist Archie Turner and his brothers Leroy and Charles, Hodges played on dozens of soul classics. Next time you listen to Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together,’ try not to focus on the Rev.’s vocals and listen to the snaking guitar line directly below his vocals in the mix. That’s Teenie Hodges.

If that had been his only contribution to soul music, it still would have been enough to enshrine him among the greats. But when you add his work with other Hi artists like Ann Peebles, Otis Clay and Syl Johnson — as well as co-writing with Green on such oft-covered hits as ‘Love and Happiness,’ ‘Take Me to the River’ and ‘Here I Am (Come and Take Me)’ — Hodges’ legacy was secured decades ago.

Born in 1946, in the Memphis suburb of Germantown, Hodges was 12 when he started playing in his father’s blues band. By the mid-’60s., he had met Mitchell, who took Hodges under his wing and eventually brought him into his own band. When Mitchell took over Hi in 1970, he installed them in Royal Studios in South Memphis.

The band expanded on the sparse, gospel-infused template for southern soul made famous by Stax and added lush strings and jazzier feel. Hodges often provided the latter with his clean, warm comping and sinuous lines.

By the late-’70s, Hi had been sold and the house band broke up. After a few years of a break, he worked with other blues and soul singers, and re-formed the Hi Rhythm Section for the occasional tour. In 2013, he was the subject of Susanna Vapnek’s documentary, ‘Mabon ‘Teenie’ Hodges: A Portrait of A Memphis Soul Original,’ which took five years to create.

“It’s very strange, but I just feel blessed to have been doing it this long,” he said in 2007. “I didn’t have nothing to do with it, really, God did it. But, yes, I do feel blessed I was able to make this music and make a lot of people happy.”

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