From the desk of Contributing Editor, Eli M. Getson–

Stax Records began as a small regional record label in Memphis in 1957 by brother and sister team, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, with the simple intent of selling records by taking advantage of the immense talent of the African American singers the South had to offer.  By the time the label went defunct in the mid ’70s it had provided the soundtrack for the Civil Rights movement and had rocked the music world. Artists Black and White alike would be profoundly influenced by the sometimes smooth, sometimes rough, but always hardworking soul singers like Al Green, Sam and Dave, Joe Tex, Carla Thomas, Arthur Conley, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, and the big man– Otis Redding.   There is nothing better than a funky, greasy, soul song and nothing was more soulful then the legendary Stax Records tour of Europe in 1967.  In my humble opinion this is when Soul music took over the world.

Stax Records headquarters in Memphis, Tennessee — Image by Bill Carrier © API photographers inc

The European Tour was to open these markets to the Stax sound and take advantage of the growing interest in Black American music, especially in the UK. By the time the tour was finished music would not be the same.  Stax management knew they had to tear it up every night if they were going to realize the commercial gains they wanted for themselves and their artists.  So they stacked the tour with an all star team– Sam and Dave, Eddie Floyd, and Arthur Conley were backed by the legendary Stax house band Booker T. and the MG’s and there equally epic horn section The Mar-keys.  This epic line up along with a good spirited competition to top each other made the show a raging success.

Pictured — Estelle Axton and Jim Stewart, siblings and co–founders of the legendary Stax Records (“ST” ewart + “AX” ton = Stax) — Image by Bill Carrier, © API photographers inc

Yet no one launched their star into orbit more the legendary big man from Macon, Georgia– Otis Redding. With vocals that combined the delicate phrasing of a balladeer with the shouts of a deacon in church, Redding destroyed it in the UK.  People still talk about Otis and his legendary performance in London–taking the Stones’ “Satisfaction” and giving it the Stax treatment along with his classics like “Try a Little Tenderness” and “These Arms of Mine”.  This along with his now legendary performance at The Monterrey Pop Festival that same year made him an enormous international star.

Otis Redding (at the Olympia Theatre, Paris), one of the legendary soul singers featured in Sweet Soul: Stax/Volt Revue — Live in Norway, 1967 — Image by © Jean Pierre Leloir, courtesy of Stax Records

The musicians, initially, viewed “Hit the Road Stax” with some trepidation, viewing themselves as a small, regional record label done good versus a global brand.  Some were even concerned that the European audiences wouldn’t like the music of a small, racially integrated label from the South.   That was until they got to England-everyone and I mean everyone of any import from the London music scene was scrambling to get tickets to see these shows.  Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones, Eric Burdon, John Mayall, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend, and The Beatles were all angling to see the London shows and hang out with the Stax artists.  In a now classic footnote of music history, The Beatles sent limos to pick up the Stax crew each night after the shows and, in a story no-one can verify, Paul McCartney supposedly kissed the great Booker T. and the MG’s guitarist Steve Cropper’s ring because he viewed him as the greatest guitar player he had ever heard.

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From the desk of Contributing Editor, Eli M. Getson–

I’ve been thinking a lot about Marvin Gaye recently.  He is, for me a least, the yardstick that all R&B singers (hell, all singers) are measured by.   His life was also something of a contradiction.  He could be religious, profane, introspective, romantic, highly political, debauched and raunchy in his music– and his personal life.  Like all of us, Marvin Gaye had a lot of layers.  His battles with his personal demons and his tragic murder at the hand of his own father are something out of a Greek tragedy.  He’s been gone for some time now, yet his music (like all great music) sounds like it could have been made today.

By the end of the ’60s Marvin was tired of the music he was making– and fed up with the state of the world.  Having built his career on the highly produced, highly stylized singles produced out of Berry Gordy’s Motown, he fought for the artistic right to do an about face and write, produce, and record “What’s Going On” in 1971.  It is without question one of the finest albums of that decade, and perhaps in all of popular music.

“What’s Going On” changed everything for Marvin– he was now perceived as a serious and complex artist.  It also veered R&B off into completely new territory.  Heavily influenced by the politics of the day, the hippie culture, and the Black Power movement– the record is a high water mark for records of that time.  It’s equal parts concept album, political album, and religious preaching.  It’s also the only album I have ever listened to that combines all these elements and puts you squarely into the black, urban neighborhoods of the early 1970s.  The joy, pain, longing, uncertainly, and ultimately wanting to escape that experience are powerful themes explored over the course of the nine songs.


“If you cannot find peace within yourself, you will never find it anywhere else”

Marvin Gaye (Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

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