CA: Memphis Music Beat: Mitchell siblings set to launch Royal Records label
South Memphis’ Royal Studios — the historic home of Hi Records, the Hi Rhythm house band and late producer/patriarch Willie Mitchell — has announced a new venture. Royal Records will be the label offshoot of the still-thriving studio, and the venture will be run by siblings Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell and Oona Mitchell.
“Back in the ’50s, Royal, like Sun, started out as the arm of a record company,” says Boo Mitchell, Willie Mitchell’s grandson, who continues to operate Royal. “When Hi Records was sold in 1977, Royal had to start operating as a commercial studio.” In the years after the sale, Willie Mitchell did operate various labels, partnering with Bearsville Records for a time, then launching his own Southern soul imprint, Waylo.
In more recent years, the younger Mitchells have pondered the prospect of setting up their own record company. “We’ve thought about doing a label and had kind of avoided it because the timing wasn’t right,” says Mitchell, who earned a Grammy earlier this year for his engineering work on the Mick Ronson/Bruno Mars smash “Uptown Funk.” “But right now it’s the perfect atmosphere. Coming off the Grammy win, and seeing the amount of talent we have around the studio, as well as the different distribution models there are out there now that we can take advantage of, it feels like the natural and logical evolution for Royal to do a label. It’s time for us to come full circle.”
Mitchell stresses that Royal Records will be an artist-friendly entity. “We want to have more of a partnership with our artists,” he says. “We won’t have the traditional record company/artist relationship or business model. We’re going to give them better rates, let them keep ownership of their masters. We treat everybody here like family, and we want the label to be the same, and want our artists to feel that way.”
The label will be a family affair in more ways than one. Royal Records’ flagship artist is Lil Riah & Key Money, the hip-hop duo featuring Boo Mitchell’s son Uriah Mitchell and cousin Keemon Turner. This week they’re dropping their first single, “I Do What it Take” (the track will be followed by a full-length LP in late September).
To celebrate the release and christen the label, Royal Records is throwing a free block party concert from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday outside the studio (1320 Willie Mitchell Blvd.). The show will be headlined by Lil Riah and Kee Money, the Royal 4 will serve as house band, and others — including Al Kapone, Frayser Boy, Tori Whodat, Product and Ashton Riker — will also perform.
“We want to announce to the city that we’re starting the label,” says Oona Mitchell. “We’re going to be featuring artists that are on the label, and artists we’re looking at for the label.”
The block party will be broadcast live via RadioMemphis.com for those who can’t make it. For those who can, there will be food trucks and other vendors on site. “We want people to support us and we want to support the community,” Oona says.
As to the future of the label and other upcoming signings and releases, Oona Mitchell says the company will be judicious. “In general, we want to take our time and really cultivate the right artists,” she says.
“It’s going to be quality over quantity,” says Boo Mitchell. “We’re not looking to sign a hundred acts; we’d rather have 10 great acts. It’s kind of what like (Willie Mitchell) did with Hi. He didn’t have the big number of artists that Motown and other labels had, but what he had was a handful of bad-ass artists. That’s the tradition we want to follow.”
Live at Ardent
As it continues to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, Midtown’s Ardent Studios is expanding its public profile. In recent months, the studio has hosted a couple of pop-up “house concerts.” The series will continue with performances by Tommy Stinson of The Replacements and British psych-folk legend Robyn Hitchcock, among others.