ARCHIE ‘HUBBIE’ TURNER: MBS FEATURE STORY
(Originally published in the February 2015 MBS Newsletter)
As told to Mark E. Caldwell, Newsletter Editor
Keyboardist and Hi Rhythm Section member Archie ‘Hubbie’ Turner (‘Hubbie’ Mitchell) has enough stories from his music career to write a book. I recently sat down with him at Blues City Cafe on Beale Street and talked about his music story. This story includes highlights from his incredible career.
Archie was born in Detroit, MI on January 25, 1946. He grew up with his brother Horace Turner, Jr. and he’s the stepson of famed musician, producer Willie Mitchell. Much of the Turner family is from Grand Junction, TN. In the 1950s some of the family moved north to get jobs at the auto factories in Detroit. At an early age a baby sitter gave Archie the nickname ‘Hubbie’. The correct spelling is ‘Hubbie’ not ‘Hubby’ as seen in many publications. When Archie was three or four, his father Horace Turner, Sr. passed away. When Archie was five years old his mother moved him and his brother to Memphis, TN where they lived with their Grandmother at her Appling Rd. home in rural Shelby County. Archie’s Grandmother worked as an RN at Shelby County Hospital and supported the boys as they grew up. There was an old piano in the house and his Grandmother took piano lessons from a classical pianist at Douglass High School in north Memphis. Archie remembers watching her play the piano at home. In the third or fourth grade his Grandmother started Archie on piano lessons with the same pianist she was learning from. After school he walked to the home of his piano teacher where he took his lessons.
Later Archie’s mother married Willie Mitchell and they had two girls, Yvonne and Loraine. Archie and the girls moved from his Grandmother’s house to a new home Willie Mitchell purchased near S. Mendenhall Road in Memphis. Archie’s brother stayed with his Grandmother. After Archie served in Vietnam he moved into the home. He later sold it to Folks Folly (next door) to make room for the restaurant to expand.
While Archie attended a Catholic high school in Memphis, his brother Horace went to Mt. Pisgah High School in rural Shelby County. The Hodges brothers lived nearby in rural Germantown. In high school Horace met ‘Teenie’ and Leroy Hodges. Archie and Horace frequently went to the Hodges house on Neshoba Rd. to Jam with ‘Teenie’ and Leroy. Archie, Horace, ‘Teenie’ and Leroy got together and formed the band the Impalas. Archie played keyboards, Horace played drums, ‘Teenie’ played guitar and Leroy played bass. They performed in small clubs in the area including the Flamingo Club and the Tiki Club (Bellevue at McLemore Ave.) where original Bar-Kays members used to come and sit in with the band. As the band got better, Willie Mitchell had them fill in for him when he had to go out of town, including once at a private party for Elvis Presley.
Archie graduated high school in 1964 and went on to college at Memphis State where he started as a Pre-Med student. Archie was performing with the Impalas frequently. In 1965, the Martini’s (Johnny Keyes and Packy Axton) were at Stax Records getting ready to record their song ‘Hung Over’. They needed a rhythm section and they asked ‘Teenie’, Leroy and Archie to come and record with them. The song was released on BAR Records as a 45rpm single with ‘Late Late Party’ as the B-Side song. ‘Hung Over’ became an underground hit. A few years later, Archie recorded his first record with Willie Mitchell ‘Soul Serenade’. The song went to number one on the 1968 music charts. During school Archie worked at Royal Studios and Stax Records. Willie Mitchell was friends with Rick Hall at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL. On occasion, Archie was sent to Muscle Shoals to play keyboards on tracks when needed. Archie remembers Duane Allman performing as a session player there. The Lab schedules at Memphis State were interfering with his band schedule, and he later dropped out of Memphis State.
In 1968, Archie was drafted into the U.S. Army and the Impalas broke up. Archie went to Ft. Campbell, KY for basic training. This is the same base where Jimi Hendrix and Archie’s friend Larry Lee (from Memphis) and other musicians drafted into the Army went for basic training. Archie met Larry earlier in Memphis when he was performing with the Impalas. Larry was Jimi Hendrix’s favorite guitarist. Before Archie was drafted, Larry was in a band with Jimi while they were in the Army. They toured the area around Ft. Campbell performing live shows. Hendrix left the Army early on a medical discharge. After basic training, Archie was placed in the Infantry and sent to Ft. Polk, LA for ‘jungle’ training. There he ran into his cousin Donny Mitchell who was a drummer. They put together a band and won the 1968 Outstanding Entertainer for Ft. Polk award. At Ft. Polk Archie tried unsuccessfully to get transferred from the Infantry to Music in the Army. He was transported to Vietnam where he was placed in the jungle with the Americal Infantry unit. One day while in the jungle he was listening to AFVN radio and heard his deejay friend Herb Kneeland from Memphis on the airwaves. Herb was a deejay at WDIA in Memphis when he was drafted. On AFVN radio he was an R&B deejay. Pat Sajak (Wheel of Fortune) was also on the station as a country western deejay. This is the same station portrayed in Robin Williams’ movie ‘Good Morning Vietnam’. AFVN radio was based in Saigon, yet Archie was stationed far away to the north in Chi Li near the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) at the border with North Vietnam. Archie thought maybe his friend Herb in Saigon could help him get out of the Infantry (and the jungle). He started to think about ways to get to Saigon without getting in trouble.
There was an area in Chu Li by the South China Sea that had an amphitheater and bleachers very similar in appearance to the Overton Park Shell back in Memphis. Musicians on TDY (temporary leave) could go there and live. Archie wanted to get to this area but the Captain wouldn’t sign the paperwork to allow him to. One day the unit had a ‘stand down’ so they were able to go on R&R. Instead of going to the amphitheater to play music, Archie caught a ride on the next available helicopter and hitch-hiked to Saigon to see his friend Herb at AFVN radio. In Saigon, Archie knocked on the door for the Special Services office at AFVN. To his surprise his friend Larry Lee opened the door. He was rehearsing for a band. Archie asked how he got there. Larry had been hit by shrapnel and was placed in the hospital. He started playing guitar and was placed in the Music program. Larry told Archie “I’m getting a band together, go on in and audition.” Archie passed the audition, but Larry said “I can’t put you in the band because you’re not legal; you’re not stationed in Saigon.” Archie decided he would try to follow the band and sit in. Archie was there to see Herb Kneeland. When asked where Herb was, Larry said “Herb is down there eating chitlin’s.” Archie laughed and said, “You mean they have chitlin’s here?”
While Archie was in Vietnam, Willie Mitchell cut his first million selling record at Royal Studios. Willie first brought in Leroy Hodges (bass), then ‘Teenie’ Hodges (guitar) from the Impalas and Charles Hodges (keyboards) to form the Hi Rhythm Section. Al Jackson (before Booker T. & The MGs) was first brought in to play drums. They became the house band for Hi Records at Royal Studios. Howard Grimes came in later to play drums after Al Jackson left. Although Archie had eight months remaining on his tour, he wanted to get back to Memphis to get in the studio.
Archie told Larry and Herb he needed to report back to his Infantry unit. He said his goodbyes to everyone and went back to Chu Li. He first went back to the amphitheater at Chu Li. There he was asked where he’d been because they wanted to start a band with him. Archie said “My Captain wouldn’t sign the paperwork to allow me to leave the jungle and come here.” He was given the paperwork again to take back to his Captain to sign. Archie found his timing was right. When he got back to his unit he was asked where he’d been. Archie replied “I had to go back to the rear to check on my glasses, I can’t see up here. By the way, where’s the Captain? I have some papers I need him to sign.” He was told “The Captain got shot and all Hell broke loose up on the hill.” The captain was flown to Japan to recover. Archie asked “Where’s the new guy, I’ve got to get these papers signed.” The new Captain had just started when Archie returned to the unit. He was a cool guy that liked Jazz music. Archie told the new Captain the Amphitheater personnel wanted him to start a band to welcome the GIs coming in. The Captain replied “Son, I’ll tell you what, I heard you can play. Every time there’s a ‘stand down’ I know you sit in with the bands there that play. (A lot of people also vouched for Archie). I’ll sign these papers as long as you come back and play for your old unit.” Archie said he would do that. He said his goodbyes and went to the amphitheater where he lived backstage. He got a band together with the musicians of his choice and called them C4. They rehearsed, learned some R&B songs and performed concerts for incoming GIs and Marines. On one occasion a big concert was coming up and Archie had to go pick up a band at the airport. When he arrived at the airport, to his surprise he found he was picking up his friend Larry Lee (and his band from Saigon) to play at the amphitheater. Together their bands performed and had a big party. Soon thereafter Larry’s tour was over and he returned home to Memphis.
Larry Lee, Jimi Hendrix and Billy Cox were older than Archie when they were in the Army performing together in a band. After Jimi Hendrix came back from London with the Experience he wanted his Army buddies together with him. He formed the Band of Gypsies with Billy Cox. When Larry Lee returned home from Vietnam, he joined the Band of Gypsies. After Larry left Jimi Hendrix’s band he came back to Memphis and became the road band leader for Al Green.
Archie still had six months remaining on his tour of Vietnam. With his band they continued to perform at the amphitheater and welcome the troops coming in. They also performed at area hospitals, and they went back to perform on the hill for Archie’s old Infantry unit. Helicopters were used to shuttle the band’s equipment to their venues. Archie was awarded Entertainer of the Year. Before he finished his tour of Vietnam, he was written up in Stars and Stripes magazine as 1969 Entertainer of the Year in Vietnam. In 1970 Archie returned to the United States from Vietnam. He finished his service and received an Honorable Discharge from the Army and went home.
Upon Archie’s return home he went back to school at Memphis State. He changed his major from Pre-Med to Psychology. He also went to work at Stax Records where he recorded demos for Bettye Crutcher. He was asked to join some of his former Impala band members with the Hi Rhythm Section at Royal Studios. However, he was getting into Rock music and he formed the band Blackrock. The members of Blackrock were Cornell McFaden (drums), Archie Turner (keyboards), Kurt Dudley (bass) and Willie Pettis (guitar). Buddy Davis later joined the band and played guitar for a short time. The band played a lot of Fraternity and Sorority parties in the area. Archie remembers the band performed at the original Lafayette’s in Overton Square and opened shows for Weather Report and other touring bands. The band was asked to open for Furry Lewis at one of the Memphis Blues Festivals at the Overton Park Shell. Blackrock was invited to rehearse at Select-O-Hits Records. At the studio one of the engineers turned on the recording machine while Blackrock rehearsed. Johnny Phillips at the studio approached Archie and asked him about a particular song they played. Johnny really liked it and asked Archie and the band to consider releasing it. Johnny had a brother at Capital Records that could help. The band came to an agreement with Select-O-Hits records and the song ‘Blackrock, Yeah, Yeah’ was released locally as a 45rpm single. It became an underground hit. The B-side song was ‘Bad Cloud Overhead’.
Cornell McFaden went to school with Isaac Hayes and he also knew music producer Bill Graham from an earlier Frank Zappa tour. On the Frank Zappa tour he was a part of the band Insect Trust that opened the shows. Bill told Cornell to look him up if he was ever in San Francisco. Blackrock was having trouble as a rock band trying to grow in the Memphis music scene. The band thought about going to California. In 1971, ‘Fast’ Eddie Townsend, a professor at Memphis State, flew the band to San Francisco. The professor tried to get a record deal for the band; however he became disenchanted with the San Francisco music scene and went back to Memphis. Blackrock were left on their own in San Francisco. The band went to Fillmore West to meet with Bill Graham. Bill first asked “Are you guys from Oakland?” Archie and the band replied “No, we’re from Memphis and we came here to see you.” Bill played the band’s tape from Select-O-Hits over the PA system. The band anxiously waited to hear Bill’s verdict on what he thought of their music. Bill then said “Here’s a list of bands ahead of you to play audition nights (Wednesdays). You sound good and I’m going to give you March 03, 1971 to play audition night. If you come back then and play well, I’ll see what I can do for you.”
The band went back to Memphis to regroup and plan their return to San Francisco. Willie Pettis didn’t want to go back to San Francisco; he left the band. Archie told Larry Lee about Blackrock’s upcoming audition and Larry joined the band to play guitar. In March the band got a station wagon and rented a U-Haul trailer and drove with their equipment to San Francisco via Los Angeles. Cornell knew some of the people that worked for Wolfman Jack in Los Angeles, and they wanted to talk to him while they were in California. They had their tape from Select-O-Hits and Wolfman Jack listened to it. He said “You guys are good, but you’re playing Rock. You need to see Bill Graham.” Around 1am the next morning the band left L.A. and drove north on highway 101 to San Francisco. Archie said “Around 5am that morning I picked up a newspaper along the highway and read that a massive earthquake hit L.A. earlier that morning. We couldn’t believe our timing and missing the earthquake!”
They played their audition at Fillmore West. Archie remembers fans rushed the stage when they started playing. He said “When Larry played guitar, he sounded so much like Jimi Hendrix; and Jimi had passed away recently.” After the set Bill Graham came up to the band and said “You all sound great; although I didn’t think you would show up. I’m getting ready to sell Fillmore East and West; music is moving to television.” At the time ‘Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert’ was starting, and ‘Wolfman Jack’s Midnight Special’ soon would be on television. The guys in Blackrock were unsure what to do. They tried to find some gigs to play in the area but nothing came together. Later in the week the band was picking up Larry Lee at his hotel. While in the hotel the band’s rental car was towed, leaving the U-Haul trailer (with their equipment) behind. They retrieved their equipment and returned the U-Haul trailer. The band went to the airport and took a flight back home to Memphis.
Later in 1971 Blackrock disbanded and Archie went to Royal Studios and joined Hi Rhythm Section. The legendary rhythm section went on to record hit records with Al Green, O.V. Wright, Syl Johnson, Otis Clay, Ann Peebles and many other musicians on Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records label. Archie remembers Paul Butterfield coming to Royal Studios to record his 1980 album ‘North, South’. Archie wrote two of the songs on the record. In the 1980s the Hi Records catalog was sold to Cream Records, and later to Fat Possum Records. Archie joined the band Quo Jr. with Roland Robinson and Brad Webb. Archie remembers when the Sex Pistols came to Memphis. In 1978 Quo Jr. opened the show for the band at the Taliesyn Ballroom in midtown. It’s the only show the Sex Pistols played in Memphis. Archie went on and took a job with Little Milton’s band playing on the Blues circuit for almost a year. He then joined Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland and played keyboards in place of Lucky Peterson while he was out. Archie went with Bobby to Paris to play a series of gigs in the Lionel Hampton room at the Meridian Hotel. Archie said “I’ll never forget meeting Jazz great Lionel Hampton there one evening after a show. “
Throughout the 1980s Archie toured on the road in the bands of Little Milton and Albert King. With Albert King, Archie recruited band members; Albert trusted Archie’s choices. One day in 1984, Archie was sitting in with the Memphis Soul Survivors [Dr. Melvin Lee (bass), Manuel Gales (guitar) and Cedric McGory (drums)] at their gig at Daiquiri Works on Beale Street. Albert came in and listened to the band and liked what he heard. Afterward he asked Archie if Melvin, Manuel and he would go on the road with him. They were happy about the opportunity and agreed. The first gig they played was in New York City. Afterwards a review was written that proclaimed the band was one of the best bands Albert had brought to town in years. Manuel was introduced in the review as Albert’s grandson, and from that point on he was known as such. Manuel then took on the name Little Jimmy King. The name was a combination of ‘Jimmy’ for his passion for Jimi Hendrix and ‘King’ from Albert King. The band toured with Albert for several years, but eventually Albert fired each of them.
Archie remembers an awkward evening at Peabody Alley when he was performing with Albert King. Billy Joel came in and watched; Albert was one of Billy’s favorite Blues musicians. During a break, Billy asked Albert if he could get on stage and play with the band. Albert went up to the mic and introduced Billy Joel. On stage, Billy said “I want to play some Blues; any key except B flat.” (The key the music was to be played in). Albert went up to the mic and told the band “B flat”. Billy managed his way through the song. Afterward, Albert went up to the mic and asked Billy “Where did you learn to play Blues?” Billy responded “New York City.” Albert remarked “They can’t play no Blues in New York City.”
Little Jimmy King, Dr. Melvin Lee, Cedric McGory and Archie went on to perform as the Memphis Soul Survivors. They became the house band at B.B. King’s Blues Club on Beale Street on Sunday and Monday nights. They also performed at one of Albert Kings’ favorite clubs, Blues City Cafe. In 1991 they got a record deal with Rounder Records and released their debut record ‘Little Jimmy King and the Memphis Soul Survivors’. In 1992, Albert came into Blues City Cafe while the band was playing their gig and asked if they would go on tour with him. However, Albert became ill later in the year and passed away. During the 1994-95 ‘Voodoo Lounge’ tour the Rolling Stones were in Memphis. Archie was then performing with the King James Version band at B.B. King’s Blues Club. Keith Richards and Ron Wood came into the club. Little Jimmy King invited them on stage to jam with the band. Archie and the band took pictures on stage with Keith & Ron. On another night, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry with Aerosmith visited the club. Willie Mitchell asked Little Jimmy King to come to Royal Studios to record. There he recorded his 1997 ‘Soldier For the Blues’ CD with the King James Version Band (Hi Rhythm Section). Archie wrote the title track and Willie produced the record. This was Jimmy’s last studio record. After their gig ended at B.B. King’s, the Memphis Soul Survivors went on to play gigs at Blues City Cafe. They also became the house band at Wild Bill’s. One evening in January 2012, Dr. Melvin Lee became ill at Wild Bill’s. Archie took him to the hospital where he passed away weeks later.
In 2001 Little Jimmy King performed at the Monterey Pop Festival. Jimmy’s band included Michael Taylor (rhythm guitar), Victor Butler (bass), Roy Cunningham (drums) and Archie ‘Hubbie’ Turner (organ). Rounder recorded the show and released it on the 2002 record ‘Little Jimmy King Live at Monterey’. This was Little Jimmy King’s last record; he passed away later that year.
In late 2008 Archie joined the Bo-Keys. He also was performing with a version of the Memphis Soul Survivors at Wild Bill’s. Scott Bomar with the Bo-Keys got the Bo-Keys into the 2008 motion picture ‘Soul Men’. In 2009, Cyndi Lauper was in town at Scott Bomar’s Electraphonic Recording studio to record her 2010 Grammy nominated record ‘Memphis Blues’. Scott wanted Archie to be on the record but he was out of town during the recording sessions. The night after her sessions ended, Archie was back in town at Wild Bill’s playing his gig with the Memphis Soul Survivors. Archie was unaware, but Scott Bomar brought Cyndi Lauper in to watch part of the show. Two weeks later Archie received a call from Cyndi Lauper’s office in New York asking if he would go on her ‘Memphis Blues’ tour. To support the record, Cyndi Lauper planned her biggest tour ever.
Meanwhile, Dan Auerbach and the Black Keys were interested in Blackrock’s song ‘Blackrock Yeah, Yeah’ and they wanted to record their version of it. They came to Memphis to Wild Bill’s to listen to Archie perform with the Memphis Soul Survivors. Later, Archie flew to New York to rehearse for the Cyndi Lauper ‘Memphis Blues’ tour. While in New York, Archie called Dan Auerbach to talk about playing keyboards on the Black Keys song. Archie had to go on the Cyndi Lauper tour; the Black Keys also went on the road. Their schedules never meshed to allow Archie to play keyboards on the track. The Cyndi Lauper tour took the band to every continent in the world to perform over 140 shows from 2010-12. During the first year of the tour the band went on the U.S. talk show circuit to promote the record and tour. During the summer of 2010 they performed on Late Night with David Letterman, ABC’s Good Morning America and the Tonight show with Jay Leno. In early 2011 they performed on the CBS Early Show. Record sales and the first year of the tour resulted in ‘Memphis Blues’ being one of Billboard magazine’s biggest selling Blues records for 2010. During the 2011 European leg of the tour, the band performed at the famed Cannes Film Festival. There Archie saw Ron Wood and they talked about their good memories when Ron and Keith Richards came into B.B. King’s Blues Club and performed on stage with the Memphis Soul Survivors.
From 1973 to date, Archie has recorded on over forty albums. In 1986 he performed with Stevie Ray Vaughan at the Orpheum Theater when SRV received his first W.C. Handy Blues Music Award.
During his music career, Archie has been honored with these performance awards:
- 1987 State of Tennessee Certificate of Appreciation (from Gov. Ned McWherter)
- 1990 Sentinel in Support of Freedom Award, Berlin, Germany (USO Tour)
- 2007 (Hi Rhythm Section) Blues Ball ‘Memphis Sound Award’
- 2014 ‘Jus Blues Award
- 2010 W.C. Handy Heritage Award
Archie has several dozen songs he’s written that he wants to record and release on a CD. He hopes 2015 is the year he can do that. There’s also a possibility more Blackrock songs could be released by Select-O-Hits. There are other songs the band recorded back in 1970 during their rehearsal session there.
I asked Archie if there were unique events or unforgettable experiences that have occurred during his music career. Archie said there were several:
In 1974, the Hi Rhythm Section had a show at the Troubadour in L.A. to back Ann Peebles. Her hit ‘Can’t Stand the Rain’ was out. Ann was opening the show for Al Wilson who was touring in support of his million selling R&B number one hit ‘Show And Tell’. Archie wasn’t aware, but John Lennon came to the show that evening. ‘Can’t Stand The Rain’ was one of John’s favorite R&B songs. Archie remembers Faye Dunaway was at the show too. John had been drinking a lot that night and teasing the patrons. It got out control when John started teasing Ann Peebles on stage. Security for the Troubadour threw John out of the club. It wasn’t till later that Archie read in Rolling Stone magazine that John Lennon was at the show, and had been thrown out. Archie told Ann Peebles about John. She remarked “I had no idea the guy teasing me was John Lennon. He looked just like a long-haired hippie in the club. “
‘Teenie’ Hodges knew Ike Turner. Archie and ‘Teenie’ used to go by Ike’s studio to hang out. One afternoon Ike was at the control board and Archie was playing the piano in the studio. Tina Turner walked in and sat next the Archie at the piano and said “You sound good on the keyboard!” Archie said “Thank you ma’am.” At the same time Archie was looking at Ike while Ike was intensely looking back at him. Archie felt like the wrath of Ike was about to come upon him.
The current members of the Hi Rhythm Section are Rev. Charles Hodges (Hammond B3), Michael Tolls (guitar), Leroy Hodges Jr. (bass), Archie ‘Hubbie’ Turner (keyboards), and Steve Potts (drums). They recently recorded the 2014 ‘Royal Sessions’ CD at Royal Studios with Bad Company front man and Free lead singer Paul Rodgers. The group toured with Paul during 2014 to support the record. In fall 2014, they played a sold out show at Royal Albert Hall in London. The Bo-Keys also recorded on John Nemeth’s 2014 ‘Memphis Grease’ CD. Throughout 2014, Archie and the Bo-Keys toured with John Nemeth across the United States to support his new record.
The Hi Rhythm Section also was in the 2014 film documentary ‘Take Me to The River’ that debuted at the 2014 SXSW in Austin, TX. It was featured at film festivals around the United States. In the fall of 2014 the film was honored as the Feature Film at the Raindance Film Festival in London. After the showing, the London audience gave the film a standing ovation.
Archie ‘Hubbie’ Turner and Leroy Hodges of the Hi Rhythm Section are part of Earl “The Pearl” Banks’ Peoples of the Blues Band. Earl and the band perform every Tuesday night at 7pm at Blues City Cafe on Beale Street in Memphis, TN.
For more information about Archie ‘Hubbie’ Turner:
On YouTube (select videos):
Archie ‘Hubbie’ Turner, "Change This Dollar"
Leigh M. Johnson
Published on Jul 7, 2013
An outtake from the "Working in Memphis: A Documentary" project. Read more about the project here:
Hi Rhythm – ‘Black Rock’: SXSW 2013 Showcasing Artist
Published on Feb 7, 2013
The interview for this story took place November 20, 2014 at Blues City Cafe on Beale Street.
© 2014 Mark E. Caldwell, All Rights Reserved.