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  • By Alan Richard


Updated: Dec 19, 2021

Photo by Mike Kerr

MEMPHIS — Howard Grimes remembers that day at Royal Studios in 1972 when the groove just wouldn’t quit.

Grimes was keeping time on the drums in the Hi Rhythm Section as they recorded Al Green’s “Love and Happiness,” which later named one of the 100 best songs of all time by Rolling Stone.

“Man, when we locked that track in, we couldn’t turn it loose,” said Grimes, who’ll turn 80 in August.

The groove felt so good, the band behind classics by Al Green, Ann Peebles, Syl Johnson, Otis Clay and many others just couldn’t seem to stop playing. Willie Mitchell, the legendary producer and musician who ran Royal Studios and Hi Records, finally had to cut them off.

“Willie was in the control room and came out and said, ‘I got it. You can stop playing the motherfucker!’ You should have seen Willie in there dancing, man,” Grimes said. “That particular day was a special day—a very special day. There wasn’t nothing in that studio but joy.”

That’s but one memory Grimes recalled during a long visit in June on his front porch in Memphis. The master-drummer shares a lifetime of unforgettable moments in music—and his upbringing in north Memphis—in Timekeeper: My Life in Rhythm, his new autobiography written with author Preston Lauterbach. The book was released July 1.

“He’s one of the architects and foundations of what people think of as Memphis music,” said Scott Bomar, a veteran musician and producer in Memphis and close friend to Grimes. “He’s one of the most important and overlooked figures in Memphis music over the past 50 years.”

Bomar and his band of Memphis veterans and younger talents, The Bo-Keys, including Grimes on drums, will perform on July 21 at the Stax Museum of American Soul, just blocks from Grimes’ home.

Grimes still plays drums in The Bo-Keys, and old friend Don Bryant, the legendary Hi Records singer-songwriter, will join the band for a special performance at a book reading by Grimes and his co-author.

“My beat is the backbone of the Memphis sound,” Grimes writes in Timekeeper. “The rhythm of this city runs through my heart.”

BELOW: Videos for some of the classic songs Grimes played on.

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