Teenie Hodges, the diminutive guitarist and “Take Me to the River” songwriter who became a towering figure in the Memphis music scene, has died. He was 68.
Hodges died Sunday night from complications of emphysema at a Dallas hospital, according to his longtime friend and Royal Studio owner Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell. Hodges fell ill during a trip to the South by Southwest music festival in March and had been hospitalized with pneumonia since then.
Hodges, rapper Drake’s uncle, was the go-to guitarist for Memphis soul in the 1960s and `70s. He helped define the sound by working with artists including Al Green, Syl Johnson and Etta James, and later would inspire dozens of others, including Michael Jackson and Cat Power.
Born Mabon Lewis Hodges in Germantown, Tenn., in 1946, and given his nickname because of his size, Hodges was playing guitar in his father’s blues band by age 12. He made his first mark in the music world with the help of his brothers, who joined him to form most of the Hi Rhythm Section, the house band for influential Memphis label Hi Records.
Hodges co-wrote “Take Me to the River” with Green and though the soul singer didn’t have a hit with it, it’s been covered scores of times by artists as diverse as Tina Turner, Talking Heads and Tom Jones, and has become part of the American songbook. He also penned “Love and Happiness” with Green and teamed with other Memphis legends including his mentor Willie Mitchell and singer Isaac Hayes to craft a sound that’s easily identifiable and still influential.
“What he did for Willie over at Hi was special and unique,” Stax Records guitarist David Porter told the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper. “Teenie created the groove, the pocket, as one would call it. That came from the way he played rhythmically. That groove was what made the records for Al Green and so many others such big hits. And that sound, that feel, it came totally from Teenie’s spirit. That’s what the world should know about this man: His heart is in all those records.”
Hodges and the Hi Rhythm Section disbanded after Hi Records was sold in 1975, though it would often reunite over the years, and he worked with a number of musicians in the last decades of his career. He was at South by Southwest to promote the music documentary “Take Me to the River,” one of two films he participated in late in life.
Survivors include eight children, according to the Commercial Appeal.