Tag Archives: Stax Records

Rocks In The Attic #756: Various Artists – ‘Stax Does The Beatles’ (2008)

RITA#756This year’s Record Store Day was an embarrassment of riches. Not only did it deliver a bunch of sought-after soundtracks, but the funk and soul fan in me was well looked after too.

First released digitally back in 2008, a now double-LP of Stax artists doing Beatles covers sounds like something I’d make up in my dreams. Two of my favourite musical pillars colliding, the only thing that would beat this would be the unearthing of a secret LP of Stax songs recorded by the Fab Four themselves between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s. I’ll keep dreaming about that one.

In fact, it doesn’t take much to imagine what Stax Does The Beatles sounds like. Much of the material collected here is available on the individual Stax releases they’re culled from, with only one or two hard to find tracks included. Probably the most famous cover, Otis Redding’s Day Tripper, is presented as an alternate take that’s just as rocking as the well-known version found on his Dictionary Of Soul from 1966. Another gem is a cover of And I Love Her, a b-side by Reggie Milner who only recorded two singles for Stax.

RITA#756aStax house-band Booker T. & The M.G.s  – once going so far as to record an entire LP in homage to the Beatles – turn in the highest number of performances on the album, responsible for four of its fifteen tracks (five if you include guitarist Steve Cropper’s solo effort of With A Little Help From My Friends, the title-track of his 1969 album).

The album’s liner notes make reference to the little-known fact that Brian Epstein once scouted the Stax studios as a potential place to record the Beatles. His visit to Memphis in March 1966 ultimately led to nothing – Epstein abandoned the idea due to fears over security – and the resulting album, 1966’s Revolver, was recorded back at Abbey Road like the majority of their work. It sounds like a match made in heaven though. “Who knows what it would have sounded like had we recorded it at Stax,” ponders Cropper.  Paul McCartney’s soulful Got To Get You Into My Life, covered here by Booker T. & The M.G.s, remains Revolver’s only glimpse of how close the Beatles came to recording a soul and R&B-influenced album in 1966.

The liner notes do make a glaring omission, however. Of all the records in the world, this really was the place to mention that John Lennon used to jokingly refer to the Stax house-band as Book-A-Table & The Maitre-D’s.

Hit: Day Tripper (Alternate Take) – Otis Redding

Hidden Gem: Something – Isaac Hayes

RITA#756b

Rocks In The Attic #605: Various Artists – ‘Stax Funx’ (1997)

RITA#605This is an awesome compilation of some of the funkier moments from the Stax label in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The first side is all instrumentals – always a good thing with funk in my book (see the Average White Band’s Pick Up The Pieces or the Commodores’ Machine Gun) – but the vocal tracks on the flip-side are just as good.

The interesting thing about this collection is that a few years following its 1997 release, Quentin Tarantino would pick up the record’s first cut, Isaac Hayes’ Run Fay Run, for use on the soundtrack to 2003’ Kill Bill. It’s a good chance he heard the song on this release, or perhaps he already knew it from its original use on the soundtrack to the 1974 Blaxploitation flick Three Tough Guys (also known as Tough Guys). Of course, it’s entirely possible that both is true – he could have already known the song from the film, and potentially this compilation just reminded him of the song. Remember, this is the guy who complimented me on my Stax t-shirt.

The record is a great tester of the more harder-edged sounding material from the Stax vaults. And whether it spinned on Tarantino’s turntable or not, it serves as a great reminder of the strength of the kind of material than would otherwise have been referred to as a deep cut, or worse, forgotten completely.

Hit: Run Fay Run – Isaac Hayes

Hidden Gem: L.A.S. – South Memphis Horns

Rocks In The Attic #499: Ennio Morricone – ‘The Hateful Eight (O.S.T.)’ (2015)

RITA#499

Int. Cinema Foyer. Night.

The scene takes place in Event Cinemas, Broadway, Newmarket, New Zealand. The date is Wednesday 20th January 2016. It’s hot, damn hot.

A host of minor New Zealand celebrities have tested everybody’s patience while we await a glimpse of Quentin Tarantino at the New Zealand premiere of The Hateful Eight.

Cast member (Six-Horse Judy) and Tarantino alumni Zoe Bell comes around first. She gladly signs an autograph on Johnny’s copy of The Hateful Eight on vinyl. Johnny hands her a red marker so that it matches the blood splatters in the snow on the cover.

RITA#499c Johnny: Thank you Zoe – could you also sign my copy of Death Proof?

Johnny presents the second record cover.

Zoe: Fuck yeah I’ll sign your Death Proof!

Working his way down the red carpet, Quentin starts scrawling his autograph on Johnny’s copy of The Hateful Eight on vinyl. Again the signature is in blood red.

Johnny: Hey Quentin – thanks so much for coming out to see us in New Zealand; we always get forgotten about…

Quentin: Hey, no problem.

Quentin looks up, and notices Johnny’s Stax Records t-shirt.

Quentin: Hey, cool t-shirt man!

RITA#499bJohnny is about to melt from a mixture of adrenaline and utter panic at having being sartorially complimented by one of his heroes.

Johnny (voice starting to quiver): …And please don’t stop directing after two more films. Please, please keep directing.

Quentin looks up, slightly taken aback. He makes eye contact again, leans back and taps Johnny on the shoulder.

Quentin: Thank you man, that’s a very nice thing to say.

Quentin moves down the line to speak to his other adoring fans. Johnny vomits and dies of excitement.

Fin.

Hit: L’ultima diligenza di Red Rock” (The Last Stage to Red Rock) [Versione Integrale]

Hidden Gem: Apple Blossom – The White Stripes

RITA#499a

Rocks In The Attic #297: The Doobie Brothers – ‘What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits’ (1974)

RITA#297I can remember a moment from when I was 10 or 11, and was spending a Saturday watching my Dad play cricket. I don’t like sport now and I didn’t like sport then, so getting dragged along to see my Dad play cricket in the middle of nowhere was always a chore.

I used to pass the time by reading comics until the boredom ended and we could catch the bus home. This time though, I was listening to music on my Walkman. We’d just been to America (recounted here) and so I was listening to my new favourite band, the Doobie Brothers.

I remember being sat outside the clubhouse, half-watching the game, and two guys sat near me asked who I was listening to. I told them it was the Doobie Brothers, and they cracked a joke. They said – and I can’t remember the names they used – something along the lines of “The Doobie Brothers? Who’s that? <Insert name> and <insert name>?”

I didn’t know either of the names they said, and so I can’t remember them now; but in hindsight, and to speculate on the joke a couple of decades later, they probably said the name of two high-profile sportsmen who were in trouble over drugs in some way or another.

Other than my Dad (who bought the tape of the Doobie Brothers that became the soundtrack to our American holiday), that was the first time I ever heard anybody else mention the band. Because I didn’t understand the joke, I simply thought they were taking the piss out of the band, and so one of my first memories of rock music will be forever linked with somebody making fun of what I was listening to.

Maybe that’s why I never felt the need to listen to the same bands as everybody else. I really didn’t care if people liked the bands I was listening to – I was listening, not them! – and so that left me open to listen to a lot of bands that other people often saw – sometimes with good reason – as a joke.

When all my peers were listening to Oasis in 1994 and 1995, I proudly held my head high and carried on listening to Aerosmith and the like. In the sixth form common room, I’d listen to everybody argue over what album was better – Definitely Maybe or (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?  I’d put my headphones back on and carry on thinking about a far more important question – which album was better – Highway To Hell or Back In Black?

What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits has to be my favourite album title by the Doobs. I really can’t work out why this particular incarnation of the band was playing with two drummers – as shown on the album cover – but the album is as solid as The Captain And Me and Stampede on either side of it; and it’s always good to hear the Memphis Horns outside of a Stax album.

The Doobie Brothers’ first #1 hit single Black Water appears on this album, and while the rest of the album doesn’t match the strength of that song, it’s not a weak album by any respect. The one thing that really annoys me is the fact that some idiot at Warner Bros. Records decided to list the songs on the back cover in alphabetical order – not their running order. Maybe they were smoking something in the office that day…

Hit: Black Water

Hidden Gem: Flying Cloud

Rocks In The Attic #291: The Blues Brothers – ‘Briefcase Full Of Blues’ (1978)

RITA#291It’s a real shame that the Blues Brothers are never taken seriously. To many people they’re a cheap gimmick act from the world of karaoke and hen nights; a look you can pull off with a cheap suit, a pair of sunglasses and a dusty fedora trilby. It also helps if you’re tall and skinny, and have a like-minded fat friend – or vice versa.

They’re more than that though. I don’t think Dan Aykroyd was a million miles away when he claimed that the Blues Brothers were probably the third best revue band in the world (behind James Brown’s and Tina Turner’s bands respectively). The experience is definitely there – the rhythm section from the Stax house band combined with the horn section from Saturday Night Live. Throw a couple of actors in there who obviously have a deep love of blues, rhythm & blues and soul, and you have something that may be imitated often, but never bettered.

Aykroyd himself is probably as much to blame as anybody else for watering down the Blues Brothers’ legacy in more recent years, reprising the act on stage with James Belushi and John Goodman – and I don’t even want to think about that awful film sequel.

My favourite part of this live album (and its follow-up, 1980’s Made In America) is Dan Aykroyd’s motor-mouth introduction. On this album, he squeezes around 300 words into a frantic minute of Otis Redding’s I Can’t Turn You Loose – hitting his mark with perfection at the end of his speech.

Hit: Soul Man

Hidden Gem: Opening / I Can’t Turn You Loose

Rocks In The Attic #258: The Coasters – ’20 Great Originals’ (1978)

RITA#258This summer, the oldest song that was constantly on my playlist was Poison Ivy by The Coasters. I knew the song already, but hearing the Rolling Stones’ (passable) version of it on their debut EP turned me back onto it. There’s something so charming about a line like You’re gonna need an ocean / of calamine lotion, that it’s hard to not smile.

Like most people my age I probably heard The Coasters for the first time on the soundtrack to the classic Stand By Me. The use of Yakety Yak in that film probably goes to show how the group is more remembered for their Leiber & Stoller penned pop songs rather than their more traditional Blues-based output. Charlie Brown is a great example of a song that – obviously due to its subject matter – feels like it was written for children and young teens, but it’s just so catchy that it’s still a great pop song (only the sound of the production has dated).

When I started listening to music in my early teens, The Coasters were again introduced to me by way of The Beatles. Their version of Searchin’ can be heard on their Decca audition tape, available on Anthology 1. I then heard The Blues Brothers’ version of Riot In Cell Block Number 9. It seems that the group has influenced a lot of work, and probably still do to this day.

One of the things I like most about this record is that it’s not a rushed-release hotchpotch of singles, crammed onto a minor label when the publishing for the songs came up at a reduced rate. It’s a full-on Atlantic Records release, on a nice hefty slab of vinyl (probably close to what we’d refer to as heavyweight vinyl in this age of vinyl revival). It comes with a nice set of liner notes, and the disc comes with the classic orange and green Atlantic Records label. Atlantic Records may not be my favourite record label – that has to be Stax, just for its sheer David & Golliath-ness – but Atlantic Records is probably the most consistent in terms of sheer quality of output. It’s also probably the most prominent label in my collection thanks to the mighty ‘DC, Zeppelin, and the occasional gem like this.

Hit: Yakety Yak

Hidden Gem: Little Egypt

Rocks In The Attic #125: Booker T. & The M.G.’s – ‘Green Onions’ (1962)

Rocks In The Attic #125: Booker T. & The M.G.’s - ‘Green Onions’ (1962)I have the 1966 Atlantic repressing of this album, in mono. The sleeve isn’t in great condition, but it’s holding together. I’d like to get my hands on the original 1962 Stax pressing – as this album, the band’s debut, was the very first album released on the Stax label (the three previous offerings of the label were distributed on the Atlantic label).

I love Stax. I recently bought the 7” box-set they brought out for Record Store Day this year, and even though that covers the kind of tracks that most people have never heard, that “lesser” material they were producing is still sweet to listen to 40 years later.

As far as instrumentals go, you really can’t beat Green Onions. It’s got a slightly menacing sound, which I think is why it still sounds fresh today. With that sort of tempo and bass line, it should sound poppy and dated, but they approach it without overcooking it. Booker T. Jones may ham it up on the organ when they play it live, but in the studio he remains composed and gives the track chance to breathe.

Hit: Green Onions

Hidden Gem: Behave Yourself