I think we are all familiar by now with that “Memphis sound”. It is that sound of days gone by and still somehow the sound of progression, at least musically. A lot was happening culturally at the time when this “sound” came to surface. It was the 1960’s and the country was at arms with itself due to civil injustice and inequality. But then there was Memphis. Something was happening in Memphis, Tennessee that was not happening anywhere else in the United States, people were whole-heartedly uniting. What had the power to bring us together no matter race, gender, or political stance? Simply, it was music. Not simply, soul music. At the heart of this adventure lays Stax Records. Though racial tension was brewing in Memphis and around the country, the studio had always been integrated, a group of like-minded people creating music and growing a business through community, collaboration and skill, regardless of skin color.
Stax was originally named Satellite Records, located in Brunswick, Tenn. and founded by Jim Stewart (not to be confused with the late, great Hollywood sensation Jimmy Stewart). Stewart knowing that he could not ever make it as professional musician decided to be the next best thing, a producer. After a couple unsuccessful years Jim reached out to his older sister, Estelle Axton who, as a music lover, jumped at the opportunity to get involved and refinanced her house to help move the studio to a remodeled theater in Memphis Tenn. Where the now historical landmark sits at 926 East McLemore Avenue, Memphis Tennessee.
Rufus and Carla Thomas were the first artists to release a hit single title “Cause I love you” which caught the attention of Atlanta Record’s legend, Jerry Wexler. After the success from the Rufus and Carla Atlanta Records took over the distribution for Stax. However it wasn’t until the summer of 1962 when a chauffer for Johnny Jenkins walked into the studio and changed music as we, rather they, knew it. This chauffer was Otis Redding, played one sing as a sample and nothing was ever the same after that. The talent and soul that this young man held was something that nobody at Stax had ever encountered. With the boost supplied by Mr. Redding the studio was booming and pumping out hit after hit with a quality still unmatched today. Stax was able to book countless amount of other influential artists of the time such as Sam and Dave as well Book T. Jones.
This saga comes to a striking pause with the abrupt death of Otis Redding in a plane crash over Madison Wisconsin in 1967. This shocked and saddened the nation but no one was quite as affected by the loss as much at Stax. Ultimately Otis’s death brought an end to the first era of Stax’ legacy. It was hard to emanate the same sound that the studio had been supplying for nearly a decade and Atlanta Records withdrew their contract. But the saga does not remain somber. Soon after the tragic loss of Otis and Atlanta records, Stax added another groundbreaking duo to their line up, Sam and Dave. The went on to record the number one hit “Hold On”.