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Interview at Porretta Soul Festival, 2015

PART  I (1944 - 1970)

Read also: Part II (1970-1976)

Part III (1977-2016)

Prince Phillip Mitchell at Porretta Soul Festival, 2015 (Photo courtesy of Dave Thomas)

  Let me take you back once more to the beautiful city of Porretta in Italy, where we could enjoy not only the scenery, but also the wonderful atmosphere and sweet sounds at the Soul Music Festival in July 2015.  One of the performers was Prince Phillip Mitchell, who opened his set on Friday night with the mid-tempo Turning over the Ground, his 1973 Hi recording.  He followed with the deep soul standard I’ve Been Loving You Too Long and a floater called Keep on Talking, a Smash single released in 1968.  After the haunting Starting All Over Again and I’m Gonna Build California (from All Over the World) – released on Shout in 1971 – we were treated to a jazzy and atmospheric version of At Last and as a closure the more uptempo Home Is Where the Heart Is.

  On Sunday Phillip suffered from a sore throat, but he delivered convincing interpretations of At Last and Home Is Where the Heart Is again, and he took part in the grand finale by singing a few bars of Stormy Monday.


  Leroy Phillip Mitchell was born on June the 27th in 1944.  “I initially grew up in the country, outside the suburbs of Louisville, Kentucky.  I went to a three-room country school (laughing) and then moved into the city from the suburbs, when I was about six years old.”

  “My mom used to sing to me ever since I came into the world.  My mom could sing, but she was not in the business.  She used to sing in the house and she sang in a choir a little bit.  When people ask me where did you get your music and your talent from, I have to refer to my mom, because that’s how I learned to sing.  We’d sing gospel songs and Christmas carols, particularly on holidays.”

  “My first musical influence was my mom and this was even before I knew anything about the music business.  Singing was important to her.  Her favourite singers were Dinah Washington, Billy Eckstine and Donnie Elbert.  Donnie was my favourite singer, too.  My mama would sing What Can I Do to me and then I would sing it.  Donnie had this high tenor voice – he sounded like me – and another favourite of mine was Little Anthony and the Imperials.  These were like my idols.” 

  What Can I Do is a doo-wop type of ballad, which became Donnie’s first hit in 1957 on DeLuxe (# 12 – rhythm & blues / # 61 – pop).  “Little” Anthony Gourdine and his group succeeded first with Tears on My Pillow (# 2 / # 4) on End Records a year later.

  Phillip grew up with two brothers and one sister, and the first instruments he learned to play were trumpet and cornet, but they were soon replaced by guitar and piano.  “I played trumpet in the school.  I started initially playing the bugle.  Later I switched over to Bb cornet.”  There are different stories as to how the epithet “Prince” came about.  “I had a dog named Prince, so the German Shepherd story is true.”

  “I don’t know where I got it, but I could always sing harmonies and teach people to sing harmonies, so I started to organize little singing groups.  I’m like 10-11-12-13.  Most of the time I would just sit in my room and write poems and songs.”


  Phillip’s first group was called the Checkmates, and there were a lot of similar, doo-wop type of groups in the area.  “During junior high school, when I was like 14-15, there were local bands and one group from across town was called Little Pete & the Youngsters.  There was Robert “Petie” Downs as the lead singer.  He passed away a couple of years ago.  Harvey Fuqua from the Moonglows got a deal with Petie, and he cut a couple of records.  He was a very good singer.”  The Youngsters had a local hit with a doo-wop ballad named You Told another Lie on Lesley in 1962.  “Pete” later became a singer with New Birth, and he passed away in November 2012, at 64.

  “There were several local bands of white guys from the eastside of town, who were good friends of ours – the Tren-Dells (occasionally the Trend-Els), Cosmo and the Counts, the Monarchs...  We were all going into talent contests in the segregated white schools.  They would let also my vocal group come in and perform on the show and we were just singing a cappella.  We didn’t have a band.”

  “I was sixteen years old, when I formed the Checkmates in 1960.  The members consisted of Curtis Wiggins, Bill McWhorter, Earl Stallard, Edward “Jumping Bean” Haynes and myself.”  Besides Phillip, also Curtis stayed active in the business.  He later worked in the Louisville area at Joe’s Palm Room in a band called Crisis and released a couple of solo singles in the mid-70s:
  “He now has his own ambulatory business transferring elderly people to and from hospitals.”

  “Hardy Martin and Ray Allen wanted to record us.  They had a local recording studio out in the suburbs of Louisville in J-Town (Jeffersontown), where I live now.”  Recorded in 1962 at Allen’s and Martin’s studios – also known as Sambo Recording Studio –, the very first single Phillip’s voice is on was released on Ted Gordon’s Halt Records.  Both sides written and led by Phillip, The Count is an uptown type of a mid-tempo song, which borrows a bit from Duke of Earl.  The similarly paced b-side, Closed Chapter, has a touch of Ben E. King feel to it.  Ted Gordon was an attorney and he also worked as the manager for the Checkmates at the time.

  On the label it reads The Checkmates and the Epics.  “The Epics was a local backup band, all-white band.  They played a lot of proms, school functions and private events.  They used the Epics as our backup band for the studio.  We cut also Dancin’ Time at the same time with Teddy as The Count, but they never put that one out.”  There exists, however, one more single by the Checkmates and the Epics – After You’ve Become a Star / Dancing Time (Halt 1138) – but it may not be a legit release.  Phillip also wrote After You’ve Become a Star, which was a romantic ballad and it later appeared on a Crystal Ball Records compilation called 30th Anniversary, vol. 3 in 2008.


  The Checkmates almost became a Detroit label recording group.  “All the singers and singing groups would come together and compete for this so-called Motown contract at the Louisville Defender Black Expo.  Harvey Fuqua was the main judge.  In my group Curtis Wiggins always was envious and he always wanted to be the lead singer, so he and Bill, Earl and Eddie decided to quit me – at the last minute.  I had taught all our routine, our dance steps and everything to them.  I had taught them the harmonies to the songs, everything... and at the last minute they left me.  I had about a week and a half to try to get a new group together, which I did, and this is the group I called the Classics.”

  “I had to go to Ken Stanley, who’s the editor of Louisville Defender, the black newspaper in Louisville.  They put on this expo.  I went to Ken and begged him to put me on the show, because I have a new group, and he said okay.  I put together James Claypool, George Davis, Willie Marsh and myself.  This was the Classics.  We competed on that same Louisville Expo 1963 against my former Checkmate group – which they had renamed the Flip Tops - and we beat them down.  It was just like we blew them out of the stage.”

  “Rudy Reynolds, who was then the program director at WLOU radio station, said that Harvey was upset, because we had won the whole contest and he didn’t want us to win.  He wanted his niece’s group to win this deal.  That group was called the Fabulons, and they were our friends, who lived across the street.  Harvey’s mom lived right across the street.  They were really good.”

  “Harvey then organized a private audition for my group at WLOU, so he could really hear if we could really sing or not.  At the expo contest the girls were screaming and going crazy, when we hit the stage, so he couldn’t hear us properly.  At WLOU Rudy Reynolds was acting as our manager at the time.”

  “We all go out there and started doing all the Moonglows songs, and Harvey told Rudy in the control room ‘yeah, they sound pretty good, they can sing’.  For sure, we were thinking that we’re going to get our contract.  Never heard another word!  My trophies were in the WLOU radio station and I’ve never seen them since.  When they sold the radio station, nobody knows where they went.”

  “My old buddies, the old group, came back to me after the contest, after I kicked their ass on the show (laughing).  As a matter of fact, Curtis Wiggins showed up for the photo shoot for the Classics and - just before the photographer snapped our photo - he jumped right in front on the piano as if he were the leader of the group” (laughing).


  “My family moved to North Carolina, where I went to E.E. Smith High in Fayetteville in 1963.  I formulated a new group and I called them the Premiers.  The other members were Melvin Bell, Robert Jackson and Willie “Fatboy”.  I can’t remember Willie’s last name.” 

  “We were doing local talent shows, and Kip Anderson heard my group.  We recorded two songs while with Kip at Everlast Studios in Columbia, South Carolina.  Both songs – Girls in Red and If You’d Be True – were written by me and produced by Kip.  Girls in Red was an uptempo type groove, more on the pop side than r&b.  I don’t think these recordings were ever released.  I loved Kip.  He was absolutely probably the first real music professional person that I met.  And he could play that piano!  He was our manager, when I was in high school in North Carolina.” 

  Kip Anderson (1938-2007) had at that point recently released a blues ballad called I Will Cry on Everlast Records, but his most impressive deep soul singles – I’ll get Along, Without a Woman, Take it Like a Man, I Went off and Cried – and the stomping A Knife and a Fork were still a few years ahead (


  “In 1963 after high school I moved back to Louisville, and from there I moved to Indianapolis, when I joined The Cash Registers in the latter part of 1963.  It was the first band that I joined, when I started performing as a solo act.  The band comprised of a bunch of my hometown friends.  They had gone on the road with Alvin Cash.  They had just recently departed from Alvin and when they came back to Louisville they wanted me to be their lead singer, and that’s what I did.  I told my mom that I’m going on the road, and she said ‘no, you’re not, you’re going to your room’ (laughing).  We played around Indianapolis until probably 1965, when I was drafted into the military.”

  Alvin Welsh (1939-99), aka Cash, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, moved to Chicago in the early 60s with his three younger brothers – Robert, Arthur and George – as a dance troupe called the Crawlers.  At the end of 1964 they released a dance hit called Twine Time (# 4–r&b / # 14-pop) on Mar-V-Lus, and the backing musicians on this record were the Nightlighters from Louisville, KY.  Alvin’s further charted singles in the 60s included The Barracuda, The Philly Freeze and Keep on Dancing.  In 1966 Alvin Cash & the Crawlers was renamed Alvin Cash & the Registers, so it’s easy to see the connection with the Cash Registers that Phillip was working with.  Alvin’s three brothers carried on separately as the Little Step Brothers.

  “The members of the Cash Registers included saxophonist Doug Miller, drummer Leroy Massey, saxophonist Julius ‘Mackie Boy’ Mack, guitarist Dee Dee Taylor, bassist Eddie Mack and female vocalist Joyce Stewart, and myself.  While performing in Indianapolis, I along with several other members of the Cash Registers band was drafted into the military.  I only spent a short time there, because I was medically discharged in the latter part of 1965.”


  In the mid-60s they released one single by an artist called Prince Phillip on Lollipop 101.  What’cha Gonna Do Now is a pop dancer with horns and a loud girl choir, and Another Fool like Me on the flip is a mediocre stomper.  “That’s all fraud.  I have no idea, who that is.  There’s a picture of some guy on the Internet calling himself me, and I have no idea who that is”

  “When I got discharged from the military, I went back to Indianapolis.  Big Tiny Kennedy, who was a big band leader from St. Louis, was coming to town.  He used to work with Tiny Bradshaw, a big swing band leader.  There was a contest for singers to go out on the road with Tiny Kennedy’s band in Pink Poodle, a big nightclub in Indianapolis.  I entered the contest and I won that contest.  I had to relocate to St. Louis, because the show moved there and they had all the rehearsals there to put the show together and hit the road.  I loved performing in that show.  It was fun.  Tiny Kennedy was like 350 pounds.  He was a huge man.  He wasn’t very tall, he was maybe 5‘8”... and he was quite funny.”

  Jesse “Tiny” Kennedy Jr. was born in Tennessee in 1925, and his best known song probably is a rhythm & blues romp called Country Boy on Groove in 1955.  Myron Carlton “Tiny” Bradshaw (1907-58) first recorded in 1934, but his biggest hits on King Records – Well Oh Well, I’m Going to Have Myself a Ball, Soft and Heavy Juice – fell on the early 50s.  Myron may have been tiny, but – as Phillip describes above - Jesse is just the opposite, to put it mildly.

  “The Tiny Kennedy Review toured the southern states and southern cities like Nashville and Chattanooga in Tennessee and Birmingham, Alabama.  When we got to Muscle Shoals, I had Bill McWhorter of the Checkmates, my former group member, to come along with me.  He wanted to go and Tiny said okay.  We were going to do like a Sam & Dave type of act in the Tiny Kennedy Revue.  I was first doing solo and with Bill we would do a duo and we had a dance routine that we did.  Tiny got upset with Bill, and he fired Bill as we got to Muscle Shoals.  With him being my best friend and my home boy, I quit the show.”

Fame Recording Studios in year 2000, photo by Heikki Suosalo


  “Here we are, Bill and I, walking in Muscle Shoals and having no clue where we are.  We walked down the boulevard and we stopped for a minute, because it was too hot.  We stopped almost directly in front of Fame Recording Studios!  Bill wanted to keep on walking as we passed Fame.  Then I heard music.  There was a little club called the Ebony that looked like a motel as well as a night club.  We got inside and there was a friend of mine from Tennessee named Jimmy Church.  His band was playing there that night.  Bill wanted to go home, so I put him on the bus and I stayed in Muscle Shoals trying to get into the music business.  I had always been writing... and finally Rick Hall got a chance to hear me.”

  “As a matter of fact, before Rick, Jimmy Johnson and Roger Hawkins heard me sing in a concert we played in Muscle Shoals.  They recognized who I was and told Rick that I was a good singer and performer, so I got an audition for Rick and he signed me.”

  In 1966 at Fame Studios, Rick Hall recorded three songs on Phillip, but he kept them in the can.  “Rick kept them past two years before he released them.  I got disgusted and was starving to death.  I joined Percy Sledge’s band, the Esquires, because Percy just had this big hit, When a Man Loves a Woman, which is written by a couple of guys in the band, Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright.  Percy was big-time and he left the band.  He went on the road, so I would replace Percy Sledge with his band locally and I performed with them for a while.  The band leader and saxophonist was J.B. Richards, trumpeter was Cedric Fawcett, and then there were the bassist Calvin Lewis and pianist Andrew Wright, who co-wrote that song When a Man Loves a Woman.  Then it was edited and credit was given to Marlin Greene and Quin Ivy as well.”

  “I was real, real disappointed and frustrated and I thought that Rick was never going to release the record.  So I left Muscle Shoals.  I had hung around there probably a year and a half.  It was probably early 1968, when I finished up in Muscle Shoals.   I went back to Indianapolis and joined the Moonlighters.”


  “The Moonlighters were also from Louisville, Kentucky, and were performing on the night club circuit in and around Indianapolis, Indiana.  They were an older band and they were in Indianapolis before the Cash Registers.  They were pretty established up there.  My friend Herbie Gibbs asked me if I’d join his group.  I did and I became their lead singer.  The Moonlighters band consisted of drummer Herbie Gibbs, guitarist William ‘Roach’ Cochran, saxophonist Junie Bass and bassist James Watkins.  I was with them only for a short period, because I didn’t get along with several of the members of the group.  Herbie was my friend, but some of the other guys didn’t really like me that well.”

  In the early 70s the Moonlighters – by now, excluding Phillip - released at least three singles on Lamp and Blue Eagle labels, all cut in Indianapolis.  William Cochran’s and Phillip’s paths would cross still later, as William would play guitar on one of Phillip’s albums eleven years later, in 1979.

  “In the meanwhile the Esquires had located out to Houston, because I think J.B. Richards’ mom lived in Houston.  They called me and asked me to rejoin them.  I said ‘perfect timing’.  I was about to leave anyway from the Moonlighters, so I got a flight out to Houston and started performing with J.B.’s band again in 1968.  I played around Houston for about a year and a half and that’s where I met up with Huey Meaux.”


  Huey (1929-2011) was a famous record producer in Texas.  His best-known label was Crazy Cajun Records and it had numerous subsidiaries. Among others, Huey produced Barbara Lynn, Johnny Copeland, B.J. Thomas, the Sir Douglas Quintet, Roy Head, Jerry Lee Lewis, Oscar Perry, Peggy Scott and Clifton Chenier.   Huey was a controversial character.  He was sentenced to prison in the 90s and released in 2007, charged with child pornography, sexual assault and possession of drugs.

  “I absolutely loved Huey Meaux.  To me he was one of the best people I’ve ever met.  Music Enterprises was his company in Houston.  He was my manager.  I never recorded with Huey.  When I got there, I started playing in this club called Van’s Ballroom and I would sort of work with Joe Hinton, who had a big recording with Funny.  B.J. Thomas was playing at this club too and a guy named Dean Scott, a great singer (  Huey Meaux heard me there in Van’s Ballroom.” 

  “Huey wanted to sign me, but I told him I was already signed with Rick Hall in Muscle Shoals.  He picks up the telephone right there, calls Rick and says ‘hey Rick, you got Phillip Mitchell on a contract.  Why don’t you put the record out and let him go’?  Huey said he wanted to record me.  Rick signed the release and he also put the record out.  Huey Meaux has got a reputation.  I couldn’t believe it.  I had been begging this for two years!  In less than three months I had a deal with Smash/Mercury Records and they released Keep on Talking.”

   Produced by Rick Hall, arranged by “Rick and Staff” and released under the name of Prince Phillip, Keep on Talking is an easy, floating dancer, written by Dan Penn and Lindon “Spooner” OldhamJames Barnett’s recording of the song had been released on Fame already in early 1966 (Fame 1001), and it became later a northern soul favourite in the U.K.  Dan Penn’s original cut from 1965 was released only in 2012 on Ace Records.  Love Is a Wonderful Thing by the same composers on the flip is another appealing toe-tapper.

  The third track that was cut at this session – a sing-along, fun song called Hail! Hail! The Gang’s All Here – was released only on Kent’s Hall of Fame, vol. 3 compilation (CDKEND 410) in 2014.  There are still two more unreleased tracks from this Fame period.  Fool for a Woman is a mid-tempo, swaying demo with only piano backing, whereas How Much More Can a Poor Man Stand is a more finished, funky cut.  Both came out on Hall of Fame, vol. 2 (CDKEND 386) in 2013.  “These are ugly demo tracks.  It’s garbage, and they don’t have the right to do that.  There’s no contract with me.  Every time I come abroad, I hear more of my music has been pirated.  No American company had the right to make a deal for my music.  They haven’t paid me one cent.  Publishing is one thing, and artist is another.”


  “I got beat up pretty bad in Houston by the police.  I was performing at the Shandy’s Ballroom downtown.  I was driving home about three o’clock in the morning, when the police pulled the car over for absolutely no reason.  They put a big spotlight on me.  They were threatening to kill me.  They started smashing my car and they beat me pretty bad, and I still have a scar from that.  They hit me in the mouth, and they handcuffed me.  It just happened that a car came through and saw me with blood everywhere, and I think that’s why they didn’t kill me.” 

  “They locked me up in jail.  My buddy called around and found out I hadn’t come home and the police had me.  He called Huey, who calls Bill Scott, famous for working on the Kennedy case in Dallas, and he got me released.  He had called the deputy sheriff, Buster Kern.  When I got out of there, I called my mom to ask if we should sue the city.  She said ‘you get out of Texas right now’... and I did.”

  “Cecil Shaw Jr. is one of my best friends.  Cecil and I left together for Los Angeles.  When we got there, we stayed at Ray Charles’ house, because Cecil’s father and Ray were good friends.  Cecil’s father actually introduced Ray to his first wife.  That was exciting.  Ray was on the road, while we stayed there, but I got to meet him later and he’s absolutely fascinating.  Cecil would sing too, so we just kind of hung around trying to get something started in the music business.”

  Brother Cecil Leon Shaw (1919-91) was a famous gospel singer, writer and producer in the Houston area.  In the first half of the 50s he used to be the lead singer and record with such outfits as the Union Spiritual Harmonizers, the Silverlight Quartet (of Houston) and the Alpha-Omega Singers.  Ray Charles was a big fan and the lady who became Ray’s wife was Beatrice Howard, a one-time member of the Union Spiritual Harmonizers. 

  Cecil, Jr. concentrated on soul music hooking up first with the Main Ingredient and the 5th Dimension and later in the 70s with Stevie Wonder and Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr.  He also released solo singles in 1973 on the Bil-Mar label that Billy Davis co-owned.  Cecil’s latest CD, Outside Music for Your inside Mind, was released in 2013 -


  “I started hanging out in nightclubs in L.A. and singing in different clubs here and there.  One was Tiki, which was a very popular place.  All the stars would come in and sing.  I showed up there and started singing.  The owner of the club hired me to play on weekends, and this is how I hooked up with many of the artists that came through.”

  “When I was there, the Bean Brothers came through and they heard me singing.  They could not sing.  They were dancers and I danced too.  Their manager was Al Williams of the Four Step Brothers.  Compared to them, in dancing I was just the beginner.  These guys were fantastic.  They could run up to ceiling and do splits and flips.  Al Williams talked me into joining the group.  They were an acrobatic dance group until I taught them to sing harmonies, and we became a vocal group.  We never recorded anything together.  In 1969 the Bean Brothers were Robert Epps, James Bean Johnny Knight and myself.”

  The Bean Brothers were tall, so at 6’ 6” Phillip fit in well.  There’s a 1967 release by the Bean Brothers on Cash $ales Records, a northern dancer called Shing-A-Ling.  Other sporadic disco and funk singles under the name of the Bean Brothers followed on D.I and Davida Records in the 70s and 80s, and later they were known also as Fully Guaranteed and more recently the BB Drifters Review.  The original Step Brother Al Williams passed away in 1985 at 74.

  “After touring the west coast up and down and performing in the clubs from San Diego to San Francisco, Al Williams booked us back to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  We played a couple of Playboy clubs and we also played at this club called The Turning Point, where we ended up staying for five or six weeks.  This is where I first met Los Quatros.  They were a Mexican group with two girls, who were identical twins named Karen and Sharon, and Sharon and I started dating.”


  “The Bean Brothers headed back to the west coast and I decided to stay in Milwaukee with Karen and Sharon and the Los Quatros band, until they got booked out to Birmingham, Alabama, at the famous Tutwiler Hotel.  I first went home to see my mom, and then followed them to Birmingham.  I was refused accommodations there, because I was black.  The band was performing there, and Sharon saw me.  They took a break and got upset, when I told them that I couldn’t stay there.  They grabbed my bags secretly, took them to the elevator and up to the sweet that they had, and I stayed there for about four days anyway.  That was scary and I was kind of sneaking and creeping around the hotel, so I told them ‘listen, I’m going back to Muscle Shoals and when this engagement is over we’ll get back together’.”

  “Upon returning to Muscle Shoals I found that the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section had left Rick Hall at Fame Studios and formulated their own Muscle Shoals Sound Studios.  I signed an exclusive writer’s contract with Muscle Shoals Sound Publishing Company in April 1970, which included all the owners of the company - Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, Jimmy Johnson and David Hood.”

  After struggling for almost a decade in the music business, Phillip Mitchell’s talent was finally recognized and his most prolific and creatively amazing period was just around the corner.

Read also: Phillip Mitchell Part II (1970-1976)




(label # / titles / year)


Halt 138) The Count / Closed Chapter (1963)

Halt 1138) After You’ve Become A Star / Dancing Time 


Smash 2152) Keep on Talking / Love Is a Wonderful Thing (1968)


Interviews conducted on July the 25th in 2015 in Porretta, Italy, and in January and February 2016.

Mr. Mitchell’s website:

Acknowledgements to Prince Phillip Mitchell; Barry Fowden, David Cole, John Abbey, John Ridley; Aarno Alén; Dave Thomas, Juhani Laikkoja and Graziano Uliani.

© Heikki Suosalo

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