Stax Records: my favourite record label, hands down. Grittier than Motown, a talent pool for Atlantic, and a tale of a rags to riches underdog in a socially conscious and racially integrated framework, Stax has got it all. The 2007 documentary (Respect Yourself: The Stax Record Story) is essential viewing, but I’m waiting for the big budget Hollywood film to tell the story. Idris Elba as Otis Redding, anyone?
Brother and Sister Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton started a country label, called Satellite Records, out of their garage in the late 1950s, but it was when they started recording R&B and changed their name to Stax that they got the attention of Atlantic Records, who picked them up with a distribution deal.
Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, Eddie Floyd, The Staple Singers, and of course, the Stax house band Booker T. & The M.G.s.; the label’s roll-call read like a who’s who of ‘60s and ‘70s soul acts. There’s something there for everyone, and a bunch of great number one hit singles, as this collection attests.
The Atlantic partnership proved to be the best and worst thing to happen to Stax though, and this is why it would be great subject material for a film. By distributing their records, and sometimes using the Stax studios to record artists on their own label, Atlantic acted as a protective big brother to Stax; but not for long.
In 1967, Atlantic was sold to Warners, and Stax fell by the wayside. Jim Stewart asked for the return of the Stax masters, but found out that Atlantic’s cuntish lawyers had included a clause in the 1965 distribution contract that gave away the rights to the Stax material to Atantic. Betrayed by his more savvy business partners and by his own naivety, Stewart eventually drove Stax into bankruptcy after a few short years as an independent. Such a shame.
I can’t remember the first time I heard about Stax. It was probably through my Dad, who has a great compilation – Atlantic Soul Classics – which captures (exploits?) a couple of acts from the Stax roster. I’ve since picked up that album on vinyl. After that, it was probably going back and discovering Booker T. & The M.G.s via the Blues Brothers. Good times.
Hit: (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay – Otis Redding
Hidden Gem: Who’s Making Love – Johnnie Taylor