R&B’s ‘First Lady’ Candi Staton takes career full circle

Jan 17 2014

The Commercial Appeal, Friday, December 04, 2009

By Bob Mehr


In 1968, Candi Staton found herself at a crossroads. “I was getting ready to go to college and become a registered nurse,” recalls Staton. “That’s what I really wanted to be.”

But, as fate would have it, the music business intervened, and Staton would instead launch one of the great careers in R&B music, scoring hits with classics like her Grammy-nominated version of “In the Ghetto” and “I’m Just A Prisoner (Of Your Good Lovin’),” earning her the title “The First Lady of Southern Soul.”

Forty years later, Staton is still singing her songs — though her journey has taken her from fame to obscurity, from gospel music to secular music and back several times over. Now, at age 69, Staton is, like so many of her veteran soul peers, enjoying late career renaissance.

On Saturday, Staton will be the featured singer at the Stax Music Academy’s “SNAP! After School Winter Concert.” The show will be Staton’s most extensive Memphis appearance in some 30-plus years.

Born in Alabama, Staton moved to Cleveland, Ohio, as a child after her parents’ split over her father’s alcoholism. “We just went through such hard times,” she recalls of her early life.

In the late-’50s, Staton and her sister were sent to Nashville’s Jewell Christian Academy. There, Staton’s gift for singing led to the formation of the Jewell Gospel Trio.

The group soon hit the road, touring the gospel circuit with a group of future soul stars like Sam Cooke and Aretha Franklin. “I knew them long before they became secular singers,” she says. “We were like a family. I remember Aretha, just playing together with her as little girls.”

Staton grew up during the ’60s, marrying her first husband and having four children. With her career seemingly winding down by the end of the decade, Staton was ready to leave music behind for nursing school. But, then, an opportunity suddenly arose with producer Rick Hall of the Alabama R&B hit factory Fame studios.

Hall had just lost his star Etta James and was looking for another female artist. Through singer Clarence Carter — whom Staton would later marry — she was given a shot with Hall. After taking a pass at her first song, “I’d Rather Be an Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than a Young Man’s Fool)” — coincidentally, a track originally written with Aretha Franklin in mind — Hall was sold.

“I sang the song, and Rick was so excited he got on the phone that night and called all the Muscle Shoals musicians to come to the studio and we cut three sides,” says Staton. “After that, it was a history of four or five years with Rick.”

The union with Hall — which lasted through the mid-’70s — would produce a succession of R&B hits. Later, Staton developed a career as a disco diva, with international smashes like “Young Hearts Run Free.” But, life on the road and in the record business soon began to take its toll.

“It’s so easy to go down the wrong road — like drugs and alcohol and illicit sex and all that kind of thing. Things you know you shouldn’t do ’cause you’ve been raised differently,” says Staton. “But you get caught up and just lose who you really are.”

“Also, I was so tired. I was tired of the competition. Tired of trying to have the No. 1 record on the charts … just tired of everything.”

Staton, who’d effectively left the church years earlier, found herself searching. “I’d had such a bad taste in my mouth from institutional religion, from the way people would judge you. That’s why I moved away from the church to begin with,” she says. “But one day I got started reading the Bible and I found out that God was a loving god. He doesn’t condemn and judge you; He protects and keeps you and wants to see you do right and do well. So I devoted my life back to God.”

In 1982, Staton re-emerged as a gospel singer and Christian television personality, earning Grammy nominations for her faith-based work and becoming a member of the Christian Music Hall of Fame — while still infusing the songs with her own distinct style. “I did put a little disco in gospel, so I called it ‘gosco,’ ” she says laughing.”

But, by the late-’90s, she began to feel another calling — that of her old R&B and soul songs. “All my life I was raised to believe you can’t mix (gospel and secular) music and I had to get peace about that within myself,” she says.

“In the church, we talk about love, talk about people divorcing, people getting together, hurting each other, leaving somebody. We talk about all these things in conversation, but we can’t sing about them. Well, why not? Soul and R&B, it’s nothing but a conversation set to music. So I decided I’m gonna do what my heart says and I’m going to sing the kind of songs that I want to sing.”

Staton soon returned to the gritty sound she’d become famous for. “I started doing it and it felt good, and I started pulling out all the stuff inside of me that I’d been suppressing for so many years,” she says. “You go through hurts and relationships that don’t work, and sometimes singing about it is better than lying on a couch talking to a psychiatrist. Trust me.”

In 2004, Staton’s career was given a critical reappraisal, when the U.K. label Honest Jons Record released a self-titled compilation of her ’60s and ’70s material. Strangely, in Europe, she’d been known more for her later disco and dance hits than her soul sides. “They didn’t really know I was a rhythm and blues singer, that I could sing that kind of music,” she says. “When the (compilation) came out all the reviews said that I should be up there with Aretha and Gladys and everybody else. That just spurred it to another level.”

The response to the compilation led her to record a new R&B album, His Hands. Released in 2006, it too was a critical and commercial success in the U.K., and relaunched her career in earnest. Since then she’s continued to record, putting out soul LPs like the recent Who’s Hurting Now? while also cutting gospel albums, like this year’s, I Will Sing My Praise to You. These days, Staton, who continues to perform at churches in the U.S, has become a festival favorite and headlining act in Europe. “They really have just embraced me,” she says.

Staton is about to bring her career full circle; she’s in pre-production on a new album with her one-time mentor, Rick Hall. “I think it’s going to be fun,” says Staton of the reunion. “Rick Hall is one of the most unique producers that I’ve ever worked with.”

Staton has also been recalling her early life for a book she’s just finished, called “Young Hearts Run Free,” which recounts stories from her youth and days traveling the gospel circuit. “Looking back,” says Staton, “even with all the ups and downs, highs and lows, my life has really been something. I’ve truly been blessed.”


The Stax Music Academy’s SNAP! After School Winter Concert featuring Candi Staton

Saturday, 7 p.m. at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre, 1801 Exeter Road. Tickets are $10 each for reserved seating. They can be purchased at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, 926 E. McLemore Ave., or by calling 901-946-2535.

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“Roses for Black Moses” celebrates life of Hayes

Jan 17 2014

The Commercial Appeal, Saturday, August 22, 2009

By Bob Mehr

’Roses for Black Moses’ celebrates life of Hayes
By Bob Mehr

David Porter has lots of memories of Isaac Hayes, as the two friends, songwriting partners and pillars of Stax Records enjoyed one of the most successful musical runs in the 1960s.

But some of his fondest recollections are more recent ones: the times they would sneak in the back door of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, stroll through the exhibits and look on in wonder at the monument dedicated to their music.

“He would have (tears) in his eyes, to go through and see all this,” said Porter, sitting in the offices of the Stax Museum. “And he’d have to keep the shades on to play Isaac Hayes, but when we’d get in the car it was like, ’Man, do you believe this?’ It was tremendously humbling, especially from where we came from.”

For Porter, such memories are now bittersweet as he reflects on the one-year anniversary of Hayes’ passing.

Hayes died at his home in Memphis on Aug. 10, 2008, after suffering a stroke. He left behind 11 children, including a young son, Nana Kwadjo, whom he had with his fourth wife, Adjowa.

Tonight, Porter and Adjowa, as well as other family members and friends, will be at Memorial Park Funeral Home and Cemetery for a special remembrance called “Roses for Black Moses.” The event, which is open to the public, will include the unveiling of a graveside memorial to Hayes, who would have been 66 this week.

“There’s so much love and respect for Isaac, we wanted to make the world aware of where his resting place is,” said Porter. “And we want to celebrate his life.”

For Hayes’ widow, the memorial is an extension of her late husband’s generous spirit.

“Everybody I’ve met, they have a good story about him,” she said, “and I wanted to give people the chance to show they love Isaac, the way he loved them.”

Those who attend the service are encouraged to bring roses, which will be collected in a large vase and then redistributed to nursing homes throughout the city.

“Even in his passing, we know he’d want to see something good to come out of it,” said Porter.

For those left behind, the 12 months since Hayes’ death have been a time of mourning, reflection and change.

Last month, Adjowa and the couple’s 3-year-old son moved from Memphis to Atlanta.

“It’s been extremely difficult for her in Memphis,” said Porter. “So she went to a place there are some friends, some of Isaac’s (older children), and a support system.”

“It’s been really, really hard for me,” said Adjowa, a native of Ghana who met Hayes in 1992. “Everywhere I go in Memphis, I think of Isaac.”

According to Adjowa, Hayes’ son is already bonding with his late father through his music.

“He plays his daddy’s songs all the time. He knows ’Shaft,’ He knows ’Walk on By,’” said Adjowa. “He knows some of the other Stax people too, like that chicken song (Rufus Thomas’ ’Do The Funky Chicken’). He loves all of that as well.”

Adjowa and Hayes’ attorneys have been busy working to ensure the financial future of the family. They are optimistic the estate will be able to regain a number of valuable song copyrights that were lost during Hayes’ late-’70s bankruptcy.

“It’s just a tremendous body of work,” notes Porter. “People are not aware of the magnitude of it. But he left something behind that will have permanence.”

For Porter, the past year has given him time to take stock of that work which yielded genre-defining R&B songs like “Soul Man” and “Hold On, I’m Coming.”

“There was something spiritual and magical about us,” said Porter. “We could sit in a room and creatively finish each other’s thoughts about a direction or musical interlude or something about a song. It’s something neither one of us could define or explain.

“That was the thing that created the bond between us.”

Ironically, the two men last saw each other while doing a TV interview discussing the sudden death of comedian Bernie Mac — just the day before Hayes’ own passing.

“When we finished the interview, Isaac got up a little slow and it was concerning to me,” said Porter. “I just asked him, ’You OK?’ and he said ’Yeah, I’m OK. I’m all right.’ Those were the last words he said to me.”

For Porter, Hayes’ life was cut short just when it seemed he was ready to return to music and performing, having recovered from a mild stroke in 2006.

“He still was recuperating but he was doing concerts,” said Porter. “He was telling me how he wanted to exercise more and wanted to strengthen himself. He was on an up. He was on a significant up.”

Hayes last appearance on an album was as a guest on Kirk Whalum’s 2003 CD Into My Soul, which Porter produced. Also, Hayes was working on a large number of musical tracks, with an eye toward making new CD for the revived Stax Records label. But Porter notes that “nothing was ever completed.”

The global outpouring of sympathy that Hayes’ death generated was a sign of his impact as an artist, philanthropist and cultural icon. For Porter, though, the funeral and memorial services were an emotional trial.

“I never allowed myself the opportunity to go through all the breakdowns I felt in losing him. Because I had to handle a lot of the arrangements and just be strong for Isaac’s wife and child,” said Porter. “But I understand now when people talk about having a void.

“I wake up every day wanting to call him. It has been the most unbelievable loss for me. Aside from losing my mother, it’s the most profound thing that I’ve ever gone through.”

Porter hopes the memorial unveiling ceremony will bring some measure of closure.

“This event is a culmination, simply in the fact that there will be a place where people will always be able to see him and come pay their respects,” he said. “And I think now I’ll be able to let go.”

— Bob Mehr: 529-2517

© 2009 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online

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Inspiration, Integration, and the Soul Children: The Resurrection of Stax Records

Jan 17 2014

PopMatters.com, Tuesday, March 27, 2007

By Matt Cibula

Listening to songs like “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” and “Do the Funky Chicken” is like taking a stroll through the garden of sublime American soul music.by Matt Cibula
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A few years ago, my family took a road trip to Memphis. We hit up Graceland and Sun Studios, walked up and down Beale Street, and only the news that Al Green was out of town stopped us from getting all sanctified up in his church. But I couldn’t bring myself to go to my favorite address: 926 E. McLemore Ave., where Stax Records once stood. I know I should have brought my children there and told them all about all the great songs that had been recorded there by so many talented people. But I just couldn’t stand the idea that Stax was gone, razed to the ground, replaced by a parking lot.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. In 2003, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music opened on McLemore Avenue. It is devoted to all kinds of soul music, but its main attraction is the fact that more than 2,000 photos, instruments, and other Stax-related artifacts are on display. (The museum even features, to quote the SoulsvilleUSA.com website, “Isaac Hayes’ restored, peacock-blue 1972 Superfly Cadillac El Dorado complete with television, refrigerator, and gold trim.” Damn.)

But the picture wasn’t complete until Concord Jazz bought the Stax catalog last year. This revived Stax will issue new albums this year from Isaac Hayes, Angie Stone, and other great soul artists. They have also announced an ambitious re-issue program, vowing to bring this amazing music back to the nation’s attention. They have already started this process with records from Carla Thomas and Johnnie Taylor, among others. But the biggest salvo in this process truly kicked off earlier this month with the release of a two-disc sampler of some of the label’s greatest songs. The Stax 50th: A 50th Anniversary Celebration gives us a chance to revisit these songs and the talented men and women who created them.

The Stax story begins in 1957. Jim Stewart, a fiddle player, founded Satellite Records in a north Memphis garage, focusing mostly on country and rockabilly. He convinced his older sister, Estelle Axton, to mortgage her home and go into business with him. They released a few singles that didn’t go anywhere. In 1960, Stewart and Axton (now on her second re-finance) bought the Capitol Theatre building on McLemore. They built a studio and converted the theater lobby into a combination candy shop and record store. There, they could make some money on the side, and Estelle could play brand new releases and see if they caught the ears of the teenaged clientele—virtually all of them African American.

Local legend Rufus Thomas, a charismatic disc jockey, recorded a duet for Satellite with his 17-year-old daughter Carla. “Cause I Love You” didn’t take off, but Carla’s first solo song sure did. This compilation begins with that single, “Gee Whiz”. Not only did this song get to #5 on the R&B charts and #10 on the pop charts, but it landed Satellite a distribution deal with Atlantic Records. The hits kept coming for the rest of the year, and the company underwent its big name change; Satellite was already taken, so they changed the company’s name to Stax (check the first letters of their last names).

Like Motown, Stax created a house sound by using the same group of musicians to back many of its artists. A lot is made of the fact that the classic Stax house band contained both black and white musicians, and it is true that Steve Cropper’s country-fried guitar licks played wonderfully off Booker T. Jones’ gospel organ lines. But this compilation reminds us that even the early Stax sound was mostly rooted in African-American forms. Not only are the singers all black—Sam and Dave, Mable John, William Bell, and the incomparable Otis Redding—but so were the label’s top songwriters, David Porter and Isaac Hayes. Still, the idea of Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper sitting down together in Memphis in 1966 to write the smash “Knock on Wood”… well, there’s just something very awesome and American about that.

A lot of people mark the 1967 death of Otis Redding as the end of the “real” Stax era. (I drive past the lake where his plane crashed twice every day.) Others say that Stax was doomed the day that Al Bell, a Detroit disc jockey, bought out Estelle Axton’s half of the business in 1969. But one of the great things about this set is that it disproves these tired theories. Stax just kept on going after its biggest star left us, and a lot of its material was just as strong and strange as anything Redding released. Try to stay in your seat while Booker T. and the MGs pound out “Time Is Tight” or “Soul Limbo”; try not to sing along with Johnnie Taylor as he asks the musical question, “Who’s making love with your old lady / While you were out making love?” (A live version of this, already featured in the film Wattstax, is also one of the tracks on Taylor’s newly-issued Live at the Summit Club. It is a MOTHER.)

There was a dramatic shift in Stax at the end of the 1960s. Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper both left, and outside producers and artists started to dominate the discourse. Part of this was sheer marketing by Bell, who thought Stax had to diversify its sound to really break through on a national basis. Another part was the fact that other American acts had learned a lot of lessons from Stax Records. It is hard to imagine integrated rock acts like Love and Sly and the Family Stone existing without the MGs and the Bar-Kays, and the sonic template laid down by these house bands influenced artists all over the world. And there is something somewhat dispiriting about “the little label that could” suddenly relying on piecemeal recordings in large studios instead of live sessions in its tiny little rooms in South Memphis.

But this is a very romantic, and somewhat reductive view of things. In fact, as the entire second disc here proves, Stax continued to be a wild weird force throughout the early 1970s. This was the era of Isaac Hayes as a solo artist. Hayes, bald head shining with passion and creativity, started to stretch out on classic albums such as Hot Buttered Soul—where he was backed by the (integrated) Stax funk-rock band called the Bar-Kays—and Black Moses. Critics still don’t know what to make of Hayes’s records, with their 19-minute Glen Campbell covers and hot jams like “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic”, but one cannot deny that the “Theme From Shaft” has become encoded into our national DNA.

Stax also rocketed many other wonderful acts onto the airwaves. The classic Staples Singers songs “Respect Yourself” and “I’ll Take You There” are in full effect here, as is Shirley Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff” and “I’ll Be the Other Woman” by the Soul Children. And a good case is made for the re-appraisal of Tony Hester as the great lost American songwriter with two unbeatably funky mini-operas by the Dramatics: “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get” and “In the Rain”. Stax eventually dissolved into bankruptcy in 1975, but this second disc makes a good case that the label didn’t just fade away.

Look, I’m a fanatic—I spent the last $99 of our wedding money on the original Stax nine-disc compilation. (Don’t tell my wife.) But you don’t need to be any kind of Stax freak to get into this music, and the new compilation makes for a great starter drug. It’s awesome for people who do not have the originals all on vinyl or eight-track or lousy CD masters from 17 years ago. It is also probably a good thing for people who do have them all already anyway. Listening to songs like “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay”, “B-A-B-Y”, “Do the Funky Chicken”, and “Starting All Over Again” is like taking a stroll through the garden of sublime American soul music. But the most important thing about it is that it augurs well for the new era to come. If Concord continues to pump out high-class re-issue material like this, then we will see an undreamt-of Stax renaissance in the next few years. The liner notes (by Stax historian Rob Bowman) and the photos are beautifully done, and the sound is as crisp as the creases in the Mad Lads’ pants.

I think my family might be due for another trip to Memphis. This time, we’ll be hitting McLemore Avenue first.

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Groovy, baby:Times change, polyester ’threads’ shrink (!), but Staxadelic is a happening

Jan 17 2014

The Commercial Appeal, Tuesday, October 24, 2006

By Michael Donahue

Calvin Anderson was one of the guests in stacks at Stax Saturday night.

Calvin wore a pair of white three-inch stacked heels to the “Staxadelic” party Saturday night at Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

The invitation requested people wear “70’s threads” to the “celebration of the 70’s to benefit the Stax Music Academy.” So, the platform shoes fit in perfectly with Calvin’s Afro wig and polyester pants. His wife, Belinda, also wore an Afro. She had on jeans and a T-shirt with the words, “70’s Child.”

Calvin used to wear his hair in an Afro back in the day, but “care and maintenance was a big deal,” he said. He always had to worry someone wouldn’t “knock it out of place by hugging you.”

Greg Duckett also was in an Afro and polyester. The clothes weren’t from his closet. “I had it (similar clothes) in the closet, but I couldn’t wear it,” he said. “I thought polyester didn’t shrink, but it does.”

Harold ’Scotty’ Scott, who, along with Vivian Howard, provided the marinated shrimp, sausage balls and other cuisine from their business, Special Moments Catering, remembered walking down stairs in his pair of yellow platform shoes with three-inch heels at a Diana Ross concert at the Mid-South Coliseum. “I fell on my face,” he said.

Quinn Howard recalled how difficult it was to walk in platform shoes on ice when he lived in Ohio. Even if you weren’t walking on ice, you still had to “tip-toe” when you wore them, he said.

Nappy Wilson wore a 1970s-looking tuxedo with a long black jacket with zebra-striped lapels. “My uncle gave it to me,” he said. “It was one of his player outfits.”

Brandon Marshall didn’t go for the polyester-Afro-platform shoes look; he wore 1970s break dance clothes, including tennis shoes with high socks and a hoodie. Brandon was one of the members of New Ballet Ensemble who demonstrated break dancing during the evening

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Listen to STAX on AllMemphisMusic.com

Jan 17 2014

Press Release, Wednesday, August 02, 2006



You Can Now Listen to Stax Records music and other Memphis music on the new web site, www.AllMemphisMusic.com! And if you like what you hear, there’s plenty more available on CD at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music’s Satellite Record & Gift Shop. New Arrivals, including rare music, regularly!



MEMPHIS, TN- Respected music industry veterans and Memphians, Jon Scott and David Fleischman, have announced the launch of All Memphis Music, www.AllMemphisMusic.com, the first Internet radio station devoted to ONLY music recorded in Memphis and by Memphis and Memphis area artists. Based in the City of Memphis, home of Elvis Presley and birthplace of the blues and rock n roll, All Memphis Music will program classics from Memphis artists such as Otis Redding, Elvis Presley, Sam & Dave, Booker T & the MG’s, Al Green, etc. and will also provide an outlet for local Memphis musicians to play their music.

Scott is a former WMC FM 100 d-jay and has worked in the music industry for more than 30 years. He is widely credited as having launched the career of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers while at ABC Records and worked closely with John Mellencamp, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Steely Dan, Jimmy Buffett, Elton John and many others. According to Scott, “Radio has changed so much and David and I felt that the Memphis Sound just wasn’t getting all the R-E-S-P-E-C-T that it deserves. We are programming as many Memphis songs as we can find, and would love for fans to tell us their favorites.”

Good friend and former musician David Fleischman, is a 32 year record executive, working at Atlantic Records and MCA Records and has run his own promotion company since 1997. Fleischman has worked with artists such as Led Zeppelin, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, and many more. Previous to working with Atlantic and MCA, Fleischman was the lead singer of 60’s Memphis band, Flash and the Board of Directors. He commented, “I know what it’s like to get a song played on the radio, and we hope that AllMemphisMusic.com can help lead to the signing of some of the great local talent we are blessed with, here in the real Rock N Roll capital of the world.”

Scott continued, “We think the time has come to put a station devoted to only Memphis Music on the Internet, a place where it belongs, and when you listen to the station, you’ll understand why we are so excited. People from all over the world will listen to AllMemphisMusic.com, due to the tremendous global popularity of the Memphis Sound and the power of more people spending time on the Internet. We are already hearing that people are listening to us at work and at home and statistics show us they are listening for long periods of time. It’s really hard to turn it off because the music is so incredible.”

“The station will rely on advertising for revenue and even though the station just went on the air, they have already received interest from sponsors. AllMemphisMusic.com will also offer the listener the opportunity to interact with the station. Scott commented, “We just received an e-mail from a fan in London and we expect the same from all over the world.”

For more information and advertising rates contact Jon or David at AllMemphisMusic@aol.com or 901-757-8020

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Three teens to tune musical skill in Massachusetts

Jan 17 2014

Stax students raising funds for Berklee room, board , Monday, June 29, 2009

By sara patterson

Three Stax Music Academy students have been washing cars, working odd jobs and canvassing their neighborhoods to raise money for room and board at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass., this summer.

Tasmine Ballentine, Ricardo Canady and Ashton Riker won full tuition scholarships in the amount of $4,000 to attend classes at Berklee from July 13 to August 14. They received the awards Saturday night before Stax students performed their annual Summer Grand Finale show at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.

“These three got it because they have been working very hard, been very focused and been with the academy for some time,” said Tim Stampson, director of communications at Stax Music Academy. “They’ve learned there’s a big world out there.”

The threesome will attend lectures on songwriting, music business and theory with 900 students from around the world. They also will take private lessons to sharpen their musical skills.

Tasmine Ballentine, 17, is a vocalist and rising senior at Central High School. The soprano sings R&B, gospel, pop and classical music. After graduating, she plans to pursue a singing career.

“I’m really excited to be around other musicians this summer,” she said. “Not just sitting around wasting my talent, eating cereal and watching TV.”

Ricardo Canady, 18, is a recent graduate of Central High School. The alto saxophonist has been a student at Stax Music Academy for six years and was a member of his high school’s Jazz Band. He has been accepted to Berklee and will soon be auditioning in hopes of a scholarship. He would like to major in music engineering, he said, and this will be his second year to receive a scholarship from Berklee for the summer program.

“I’ve learned that you’re never as good as you think you are,” he said. “It’s very humbling, because the cats up there will blow you out of the water.”

Ashton Riker, 18, is a recent graduate of Ridgeway High School. The tenor R&B singer attended the program with Canady last year. He released an album on iTunes and hopes to attend Berklee after a short touring stint, he said.

“Before a performance, I’m always nervous,” he said. “As soon as I step on stage, I’m calm, relaxed, having so much fun.”

Stax Music Academy is part of the Berklee City Music Network, in its third year to send students from Memphis to Boston for the summer. Stax Music Academy mentors youth, primarily those residing in the “Soulsville” ZIP codes of 38106 and 38126. About 20 students are enrolled at the Academy for the summer, said Stampson, and about 60 usually enroll during the school year. For more information visit staxmusicacademy.org. For donation inquiries call (901) 946-2535.

– Sara Patterson: 529-2594

© 2009 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online

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Stax lives! The other soul record label celebrates 50 years at SXSW after tumultuous Memphis history.

Jan 17 2014

Austin American-Statesman, Thursday, March 15, 2007By Michael Corcoran

MEMPHIS — There’s almost nothing in this world cooler than driving down McLemore Avenue blasting “Green Onions,” the 1962 hit by Booker T. and the MGs that let the world know there was an imposing musical force coming from a South Memphis neighborhood. It was a time of racial upheaval in the South, but a full year before Martin Luther King Jr. took his dream of equality to the nation’s capital, a group of young white and black men and women were building a legendary record company out of an old movie theater.

During the ’60s, Stax Records was a big pot of spicy, Southern, help-yourself stew to Motown’s candlelit steak dinner. Where Motown’s dream machine was driven by the ruthlessly ambitious Berry Gordy, whose master plan was to sweeten soul music and sell it to white America, Stax Records just kinda happened.

Motown was the NBA — the big game in town — while Stax was the ABA, with the big ’fros and the funky ball and the underdog ghetto swagger. Motown was “Hitsville U.S.A.” while Stax, which celebrates its 50th anniversary at South By Southwest with a show starring Booker T. and the MGs, William Bell, Eddie Floyd and Isaac Hayes tonight at Antone’s, was “Soulsville U.S.A.” The labels were as different, and as similar, as Detroit and Memphis.

Think of all the classic music that came out of the old Capitol Theatre, at 926 E. McLemore Ave., in a neighborhood that was changing from all white to all black in a hurry. “In the Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett, “Hold On I’m Comin’ ” by Sam & Dave, everything by Otis Redding, “Walking the Dog” by Rufus Thomas, “Respect Yourself” by the Staple Singers, “Born Under a Bad Sign” by Albert King, “Knock On Wood” by Eddie Floyd and on and on.

But when you’re cruising down East Mac for the first time, the song you want to play is “Green Onions.” It’ll turn your midsized rental car into a long, black Lincoln Continental.

Looking for history

The first time I went looking for Stax, which went out of business in 1976 but has been revived by California’s Concord Music Group, the only evidence that there was once an incubator of talent at McLemore Avenue and College Street was a historical marker. The old movie theater, on land sold by the city to a Pentecostal church, was razed in 1989, an unconscionable act that would be like when Austin had torn down the Armadillo World Headquarters. Someone was having a garage sale on the barren ground where Stax once proudly stood and I bought a three-quarter length brown vinyl coat for $3, the closest thing to a piece of Stax I could walk away with.

But today, the spiritually invigorating Stax Museum of American Soul Music sits at the old East McLemore Avenue address. To its credit, the museum doesn’t just celebrate Stax, but Willie Mitchell’s Hi Records, which made all those great Al Green records just a few blocks away, as well as the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, Atlantic Records and even the old rival, Motown Records.

The 17,000 square feet of exhibit space contains more than 2,000 artifacts, but first visitors watch a 20-minute film on the history of Stax. Then, the theater doors open to a facsimile of a ramshackle country church circa 1920..

“The Stax sound had strong gospel roots,” says Deanie Parker, the former Stax publicity director who started out working at the record shop at the front of the building as a 16-year-old. Parker was a guiding force behind raising the money, which came from local and federal entities and private donors, to build the museum and the adjacent Stax Music Academy, where innercity children learn to play musical instruments.

“There are some people who I’ll never forgive,” says Parker, still bitter about the demise of the label that had been her life. “People at the city knew what was going on and they just looked the other way.” With the 1972 purchase of Stax by the label’s promotional wizard Al Bell, the label was the fifth largest black-owned business in the U.S. And the city of Memphis let it die.

“When they were going to tear down the old studio, I had some friends say, ’Aren’t you going to do anything?’ ” Parker says. “But a building is just a building. I’d seen people’s hearts and souls ripped out. After all the pain we had gone through, it didn’t mean anything at the time to see that building go.”

But Parker got nostalgic when she and guitarist/producer Steve Cropper worked together to recreate the studio as the museum’s crowning exhibit. The two didn’t always agree on what went where. “We had a big fight about where the space heater was,” Parker says. Cropper was sure it was next to Al Jackson’s drum kit. After all, Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn often had to play in coats during the winter while Jackson was toasty warm.

“But I distinctly recall that the gas heater was over by where Otis used to sing,” Parker says. “He’d always take out his partials (dentures) when he sang and he’d put them on top of the heater. And every time he’d forget them and I’d have to mail them back to Georgia.” A third former employee settled the disagreement; there were two space heaters in the studio, but only the one near Jackson worked.

It’s not the real Stax studio, but the full-scale facsimile gives you an idea of how all that sweet soul music came together. You can see where Jackson, the mesmerizing tempo king of Stax, set up his drums, where Cropper and Dunn stood and faced him and where Booker T. Jones took flight with his Hammond B3 organ. Those four MGs didn’t use headphones and they were so spread out in the former movie theater that they’d all take their cue from Jackson’s snare hand, which created the slight delay that became a Stax trademark.

The soul of Stax

This amazing group of two black men and two white men not only played on their own hits (“Time Is Tight” and “Soul Limbo” followed “Green Onions”), but on just about every record made at Stax from 1962 until 1969. (Isaac Hayes sometimes replaced Jones, who attended the University of Indiana from 1962-’66, on sessions.) When the MGs toured Europe in 1967, playing behind a Stax revue featuring Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Rufus Thomas and others, it was like the British Invasion in reverse, as the sold-out tour played to delirious crowds experiencing real live American soul music for the first time.. Then the band flew from London to California for Redding’s sensational appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival.

“It was surreal,” says Jones. “We looked outside our hotel and there were all these motorcycles and we thought it was the police. But it was a biker gang, coming to escort us to the show. Now that was something you’d never see in Memphis.”

Redding and the MGs tore it up in front of the peace-and-love generation, jubilantly parading the Stax sound, which was then mainly played only on black stations. A new market was found, but just months later 26-year-old Redding and four members of the Bar-Kays were killed in a plane crash near Madison, Wis.

After the shock wore off, “the Stax Six” (the MGs, Isaac Hayes and David Porter) went back to work and had big hits with Sam & Dave (“Soul Man”), Johnny Taylor (“Who’s Making Love”) and the Staple Singers. In 1969, Stax was on top of the music world with “Hot Buttered Soul,” the Isaac Hayes masterpiece that contained only two songs per side (including an 18-minute version of “By the Time I get To Phoenix.”)

With Hayes’ “Theme From Shaft” winning a 1972 Academy Award (a precursor to “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” by Memphis’ Three 6 Mafia), there seemed to be no limits to what Stax artists could do.

“I think what made Stax special was not just that we were able to create musical magic, but that we were able to do it day in and day out,” says Jones, whose production credits include “Stardust” by Willie Nelson. As the Stax house band, the MGs would come to work every morning like they were punching the clock at a meat-packing plant. Nobody ever saw a beer, a joint or a line during Stax’s productive daytime sessions. These were people with a passion for gritty, gospel-fired rhythm and blues, and they were living their dreams.

At the helm of the company, which originated as Satellite Records in 1957, was Jim Stewart, who worked as a bank teller when he wasn’t engineering records by such soul giants as Redding, Sam & Dave and Carla Thomas (who had the first Stax hit with “Gee Whiz” in 1961). Stewart’s the “St” of Stax (a California label called Satellite necessitated a name change). The “ax” refers to Estelle Axton, Stewart’s older sister, who took out a second mortgage on her house to help her brother buy his first Ampeg monaural tape recorder.

A Western swing fiddler from backwoods Tennessee, Stewart mainly recorded country acts early on and he might have continued to if he didn’t come across an old movie theater for rent — $150 a month — on East McLemore Avenue.

In a stroke of accidental genius, Axton, looking to generate some cash flow, converted the old concession area into the Satellite Record Shop. “She was the greatest salesperson I’ve ever seen,” says Parker. Axton kept an index card for every customer, writing down what records they bought. “If she saw that they liked slow songs, she’d play the newest ballads for them and they’d almost always buy one.”

The record shop became a hangout for neighborhood kids such as Booker T. Jones, who lived a couple blocks away, and William Bell. David Porter, who co-wrote all those great Sam & Dave songs with Hayes, worked as a bag boy at Big D grocery store across the street, and he’d pop in during his breaks.

“I’d be browsing in the store and listening to all the new records,” says Jones, “but I always had an eye on the door to the studio. I was always intrigued about what was going on back there.”

Stax: Endings & beginnings

In one of many interview films shown at the Stax Museum, a disgruntled Jones tells the camera that if Martin Luther King Jr. hadn’t been assassinated in Memphis (on April 4, 1968), Stax would still be in business. Fifteen years after that interview, the keyboardist says he regrets having said that. “It was probably a contributing factor,” he says of King’s shooting death at the Lorraine Motel, just three doors down from where Cropper and Pickett had written “In the Midnight Hour” a couple years earlier. “But there was a lot more to it than that.”

When word of King’s assassination spread through Memphis, a crowd gathered outside the Stax studio and Cropper and Dunn had to be escorted to their cars and whisked away. “Everything changed at Stax,” Duck Dunn’s wife June Dunn told Peter Guralnick in the book “Sweet Soul Music.”

Because the Stax studio didn’t have air conditioning, the white and black musicians would often cool off at the pool of the Lorraine. But during the summer of 1968, that wasn’t a safe place for whites.

“It just all became about race,” says Jones. “We never thought twice about it, but people were always asking us, ’Why are you playing with those white guys?’ In our minds, we were like brothers.”

But Jones says the vibe at Stax and its Volt subsidiary also started changing after Gulf & Western bought the company in 1968. The four MGs were vice presidents of the company, but the sale was conducted without their input..

What finally ended up toppling the home of deep-fried soul music was a 10-year-old girl from Scotland. Well, not totally, but the expensive signing and promotion of Lena Zavaroni, whose “Ma, He’s Making Eyes At Me” flopped stateside in 1975, cost an already cash-strapped Stax millions.

Later that year, emotions were in a funk when Jackson, the heart of the Stax sound, was murdered at home by unknown assailants.

A sour distribution deal with CBS, which inherited Stax from deposed label president Clive Davis, and several millions in unpaid loans eventually sunk the label in 1976. It didn’t help that Stewart had naively, unknowingly, signed away Stax master recordings in a 1965 distribution deal with Atlantic, so the company didn’t even own its lucrative back catalog. This road to the poorhouse was paved with good intentions.

But even as the oft-sampled music of Stax has never truly gone away, it is coming back with a vengeance, and using SXSW to trumpet the revival.

On Tuesday, Concord Music Group, co-owned by former television mogul Norman Lear, released the double disc “Stax 50: A 50th Anniversary Celebration.” Up next is a reissue of Johnny Taylor’s “Live At the Summit Club,” which shows why Taylor was the right man to replace Sam Cooke in the Soul Stirrers.

And the new, revived Stax hopes to make some musical magic of its own, signing Angie Stone, the “neo-soul” queen who’ll headline the Urban Music Fest at Auditorium Shores April 6-7. Isaac Hayes will also record new music for Stax/Concord, which plans to release about six new albums a year.

“Having grown up on this really special kind of soul music, we’re just thrilled to be able to carry it forward,” says Concord president Robert Smith.

“We didn’t set out to change the world or anything,” reflects Parker, who was often drafted for songwriting help and looked after the gang like a big sister. “We just loved the music so much, and loved each other..”

Much musical history has been built on less.

Stax Museum of American Soul Music


Stax Museum of American Soul Music

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Musician’s photos view jazz behind scenes

Jan 17 2014

The Commercial Appeal, Saturday, November 11, 2006

By Pamela Perkins

Billie Holiday’s last recording session in the spring of 1959 didn’t go well, despite the sips of vodka she thought might help.

A photograph that the session’s bass player, Milt Hinton, snapped that day not only told the story of the session. It also seemed to have caught traits of her lauded voice: haunted, pensive, forlorn. She died July 17 that year.

Hinton’s powerful image can be seen with 49 others at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music’s “Milt Hinton: All That Jazz — Behind the Scenes Photographs of 20th Century Jazz” exhibit from its opening reception on Sunday through Jan. 29.

On loan from the New York City-based Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection, the exhibit includes images of history’s most important jazz figures: Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Pearl Bailey, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Thelonious Monk as well as Mulgrew Miller, who was born in Greenwood, Miss., and studied in Memphis, and Aretha Franklin, who was born here.

Born in Vicksburg, Miss., in 1910, Hinton was known as one of the world’s greatest jazz bass players, but he also was an avid photographer. His camera was usually with him, capturing images of decades of performances, recording sessions and the behind-the-scenes lives of his fellow jazz performers. Hinton died in 2000.

The exhibit also will feature the 57-minute PBS documentary “Keeping Time: The Life, Music, and Photographs of Milt Hinton” that contains interviews with Hinton as well as renowned entertainers Gregory Hines, Branford Marsalis, Doc Cheatham and Quincy Jones.

The opening reception, from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, will serve live jazz with hors d’oeuvres, soft drinks and a cash bar. Admission is $9 for the public and free to museum members.

In honor of the exhibit, the museum’s Last Monday in Studio A concert from 7 to 9 p.m. Nov. 27 will feature jazz artists Sal Crocker and Strictly Sax. That event also will include hors d’oeuvres, soft drinks and a cash bar. Admission is $20 to the public and free to museum members.

For more information, visit www.staxmuseum.com or call Tim Sampson at 261-6324 or e-mail him at tim@soulsvilleusa.com.

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Out of Exile, Back in Soulsville

Jan 17 2014

The New York Times, Friday, August 14, 2009

By Deborah Sontag

AS the peacock-blue Cadillac with the gold trim and fur lining spun on a giant turntable in the Stax Museum of American Soul Music here, Al Bell, the final owner of the late, great record label, chuckled. Decades before 50 Cent with his customized Rolls-Royce and Akon with his tricked-out Lamborghini, there was Isaac Hayes with this pimped-out ride, an over-the-top gift from Stax to its over-the-top star, who wore slave chains like emancipatory bling across his bare, buff chest.

“The reason I chuckle is because I think of what has been born out of the rap and the hip-hop world, and then I look at what we were doing back then, and, you know, we were really ahead of our time,” Mr. Bell said.

His chuckle is rueful, though. When Mr. Bell, 69, stands by that revolving Cadillac, he sees the arc of his life come full circle, unexpectedly. The original Stax Records is long gone, (though it resurfaced several years ago under new management), Mr. Hayes and many other Stax artists, from Otis Redding to Rufus Thomas, have died, and, until recently, Memphis showed little interest in reclaiming or building on its soul-music heritage. Six years ago, though, the Stax Museum opened. And earlier this summer Mr. Bell was invited back to Memphis with a bittersweet mandate: to resuscitate the city’s once great music industry as chairman of the Memphis Music Foundation.

As a result, after years of exile, Mr. Bell now has the opportunity both to promote a more enlightened Memphis and to redeem his own legacy, which was tarnished when Stax was forced into involuntary bankruptcy in 1975 and when he himself was tried for — and acquitted of — bank fraud.

What happened at Stax in the turbulent years after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis was complicated, as was Mr. Bell’s role in it. But in retrospect Deanie Parker, interim chief executive of the Soulsville Foundation, which runs the museum, boils it down pungently to this: “In its own way, Stax Records was fighting the same fight as Dr. King, and Stax Records was assassinated too.”

In its heyday Stax, a rhythm and blues label founded by a white brother and sister, Jim Stewart and Estelle Stewart Axton, represented the model of an integrated workplace in a deeply segregated city. Under Mr. Bell it became one of the nation’s largest black-owned companies. Its failure devastated not only those whom it sustained financially and artistically but also those who saw it as an inspiration. Many African-American leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, viewed Mr. Bell’s prosecution as persecution; his trial included testimony that a local banking official had bragged, using a racial slur, about “running those” blacks “and especially the chief” black “out of town,” Mr. Bell’s defense lawyer, James F. Neal, a former Watergate prosecutor, recollected recently.

Despite his acquittal Mr. Bell left Memphis with his career in tatters.

“I didn’t feel broken — I’m a fighter — but I did experience the low lows,” said Mr. Bell, who is imposingly tall (6 foot 4 ¾ in his precise accounting) and dapper, with pinstripe suits, monogrammed cuffs and silk pocket squares that match his ties.

To many, then, it seems a fitting, if not poignant, postscript that Memphis is welcoming Mr. Bell back with outstretched arms. “The way that Al Bell was treated in that city at the end of the history of Stax Records was despicable,” said Rob Bowman, the author of “Soulsville U.S.A,” the definitive history of the record label. “I think it’s wonderful that he has been chosen for this position. Al did so much for Memphis. In taking Stax from a mom-and-pop operation to an R&B powerhouse, he really put Memphis on the map.”

Born Alvertis Isbell in Brinkley, Ark., Mr. Bell is a mix of velvety charm and prickly pride, with the rhetorical cadences of a preacher and the unwavering self-confidence of a politician. His bumpy career path intersected with crucial figures and moments in 20th-century African-American — and entertainment — history.

The product of a black high school and college in Little Rock, Mr. Bell marched with Dr. King, worked as a black-radio D.J. in Washington at the peak of the civil rights movement, ran the two major black record companies — he served briefly as president of Motown Records too — and eventually started his own independent label, Bellmark, with hit songs as varied as “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” (Prince) and “Whoomp! (There It Is)” (Tag Team).

Now, at an age when others choose to retire, Mr. Bell is trying to reinvent himself. In Memphis his mission at the private, nonprofit foundation is nothing less than to help make Memphis the independent-music capital of the country, first by nurturing local artists and music businesses. In a personal venture, he recently started an Internet radio network, albellpresents.com, with an e-commerce link, and its first station features soul music with Mr. Bell hosting in his suave baritone.

Returning to the role of disc jockey, like returning to Memphis, is “precious,” he said. His “jock” career began in high school, when he was president of the audio-visual club. This put him at the helm of the sock hops, for which he borrowed records from girls, whom he quizzed thoroughly about their interest in, say, the Coasters or Nat King Cole. “This gave me so much insight until finally I got me a microphone,” he said. Soon he was a gospel music D.J. on a Little Rock station.

After high school, in 1959, Mr. Bell went to work under Dr. King at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He spent a year in Georgia until “breaking rank” with the nonviolent-resistance ethos at a march in Savannah, Ga. When a hostile bystander spit on him, Mr. Bell pulled a switchblade from his pocket and plunged into the crowd. Fellow marchers restrained him, “fortunately,” Mr. Bell said, but Dr. King was not pleased.

Earlier, Mr. Bell said, he had brushed aside Dr. King’s concern about his switchblade by joking to him, “Well, Doc, Jesus had Peter with him, and Peter carried a sword.” But Mr. Bell said that after the march Dr. King, calling him Alvertis, rebuked him for his increasing advocacy of self-defense against the police and their dogs. “So I said, ‘O.K., Doc.’ And I left the next day, with love.”

Back in Little Rock, Mr. Bell, while attending college, resumed his radio career, eventually graduating in 1961 to WLOK in Memphis, where he used this sign-on: “This is your 6 feet 4 bundle of joy, 212 pounds of Mrs. Bell’s baby boy, soft as medicated cotton, rich as double-X cream, the women’s pet, the men’s threat, the baby boy Al” — and then he rang a bell — “Bell.”

At the time, in a converted movie theater in a black neighborhood, Mr. Stewart and Ms. Axton, who died in 2004, were getting Stax off the ground. Mr. Bell promoted their artists, not only in Memphis but also, more significantly, in Washington, when he moved to WUST in 1963. Two years later it seemed a natural fit for Stax to hire Mr. Bell as its first in-house promotions man.

A 25-year-old workaholic who posted a giant thermometer in the lobby to track sales, Mr. Bell injected considerable energy into the small company. “You could say that Stax didn’t really begin until he got there,” said William Bell, 70, whose “You Don’t Miss Your Water” was an early Stax release. “Jim Stewart was a behind-the-scenes guy. Al Bell was a wheeler-dealer.”

In Mr. Bowman’s book, Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and the MGs, the house band that shaped the Stax sound, calls Mr. Bell “our Otis for promotion.” Otis Redding, a year younger than Mr. Bell, was the life force of the studio. “‘Everybody looked up to him,” Mr. Bell said. Asked if he too looked up to him, Mr. Bell said, “I looked at him.”

In his drive to promote the gritty Memphis sound outside the South Mr. Bell took a Who’s Who of Stax talent to the Apollo Theater in Harlem for 10 days in 1967. It was during those shows that Redding became a kinetic performer instead of a stationary crooner, according to Mr. Bell. As Redding, the headliner, watched from the wings, Johnnie Taylor would energize the crowd by shouting, “I want everybody here to give me the clap,” and Sam and Dave would “set the stage on fire.”

“Finally,” Mr. Bell said, laughing, “Otis came out, grabbed the microphone and went hustling from one end of the stage to the other.”

On Dec. 10, 1967, when Mr. Bell was attending a radio industry convention in Las Vegas, a loudspeaker announced that Redding, 26, had died in a small plane crash near Madison, Wis. “I lost it,” Mr. Bell said. That night he drank himself into a stupor while playing craps. He learned the next morning that he had made $85,000. “But Otis was still gone,” he said.

Four months later, on April 4, 1968, Mr. Bell was presiding over, in retrospect, a bizarrely timed recording session of “Send Peace and Harmony Home,” a song that he, with others, had written for Dr. King. He was staying nearby at the black-owned Lorraine Motel, the only place in town where Stax’s racially mixed artists were free to socialize and where classics like “In the Midnight Hour” were written.

According to Mr. Bell, Homer Banks, a singer and songwriter, burst into the studio, calling out, “They just shot Dr. King, and he’s dead.” The tape was rolling, and the vocalist, Shirley Walton, started singing wrenchingly and crying. “My God,” Mr. Bell said, shuddering.

Racial tensions escalated in Memphis. Stax remained safe while other white-owned businesses were burned. But inside the company, Mr. Bell said, there developed “a new color consciousness.” Around that time Mr. Bell was given a stake in Stax, and he soon signed his favorite group, the Staple Singers. But there were business problems. After Warner Brothers bought Atlantic Records, which had been Stax’s distributor, Stax learned that it no longer owned its chief asset, its back catalog.

In an effort to create a new catalog from scratch, Mr. Bell called on Stax’s entire roster to produce. “He was our ‘Yes, we can’ man,” said Ms. Parker, who was director of publicity. In May 1969 alone Stax released 27 albums and 30 singles. “Craziness!” Mr. Bell said.

The most successful album was “Hot Buttered Soul,” which Hayes, who was primarily a songwriter, had to be coaxed into recording. He had been lured into the studio to make his first album, which was not very successful, after Mr. Bell loosened him up with Asti Spumante at a party one night. This time Mr. Bell urged him to do whatever he wanted, which resulted in unconventionally long songs like an 18-minute 42-second version of “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and a 9-minute Bell-Hayes collaboration called “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” (a word that Mr. Bell said he coined to describe those who abuse big words).

To the surprise of many “Hot Buttered Soul” was a hit. It was followed by the soundtrack for the movie “Shaft” and ever-increasing success for Mr. Hayes and for Stax. The company was continually expanding yet also losing its original intimacy, and some of its original musicians, as new personnel and heightened security ruffled feathers.

In the summer of 1971 Mr. Bell’s younger brother Louis was murdered in Arkansas. Right before the funeral, Mr. Bell said, he sat on the hood of a junked school bus in his father’s yard and a song came to him:

I know a place

Ain’t nobody crying

Ain’t nobody worried

Ain’t no smilin’ faces

Lyin’ to the races.

Afterward Mr. Bell brought the song to a recording session with the Staple Singers, who “took it to the next level,” he said, and “I’ll Take You There,” with its island groove, became one of their biggest hits. Mr. Bell likes to say that he did not write the song but that it was “written through me.” Still, he claimed sole songwriting credit, irking Mavis Staples, who believed the song to be collaborative, according to Mr. Bowman.

Mr. Bell increasingly saw Stax, which branched into spoken-word albums with Mr. Jackson, Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby, as a platform for black advancement. Looking back at “Wattstax,” the 1972 concert — later a film — at the Los Angeles Coliseum that was referred to as the black Woodstock, Mr. Bell still takes pride: “Here’s this black guy from Memphis, Tenn., pulling together 112,000 black people in Hollywood.”

But the unraveling of Stax began not long afterward. Mr. Stewart wanted to leave, with cash for his half of the company. Mr. Bell made a distribution deal with Clive Davis, who ran CBS Records, which allowed him to buy out Mr. Stewart. But CBS soon dismissed Mr. Davis and relations between the two companies disintegrated, ultimately causing severe cash flow problems for Stax.

“The time came for the big fish to eat the little fish,” Mr. Bell said.

Stax filed an antitrust suit against CBS, and its bank, Union Planters, also accused CBS of economically strangling Stax. But Union Planters, which was facing its own financial troubles, was squeezing Stax too, and it brought pressure to bear with racist rhetoric, as came out at Mr. Bell’s trial.

At the same time Stax found itself under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service. Employees started going without paychecks, and artists were jumping ship. Mr. Bell came under attack in the Stax family, although Ms. Parker said that many later regretted that they had not been “the wind at Al’s back instead of the wind in his face.”

Mr. Stewart, the company founder, who tried to salvage Stax with his own money, never held Mr. Bell responsible for Stax’s downfall, Mr. Bowman said. “Al Bell went to Herculean efforts to try to save Stax,” he said. “Jim Stewart found the racism involved in the end to be despicable.”

On Dec. 19, 1975, after three small creditors, prompted by Union Planters, brought an involuntary bankruptcy petition against Stax, the company’s receiver, accompanied by armed guards, arrived at Stax. Mr. Bell said the receiver addressed him with a slur, saying, “You got 15 minutes to get out of the building.” He got out.

Not long afterward Mr. Bell was indicted for conspiring with a former Union Planters official to defraud the bank. The banker had confessed to making fictitious loans and to forging Mr. Bell’s signature as a guarantor on those loans.

“It was a bitter story,” Mr. Bell’s lawyer, Mr. Neal, said. “The bank engineered the government into charging him criminally. I never thought he was guilty, and neither did the jury.”

Mr. Bell moved his family into the unfinished basement of his father’s house in Little Rock. “I went from a man that owned a company whose masters were valued by Price Waterhouse at $67 million to a man that could scrape together 15 cents from time to time,” he said.

After the bankruptcy Union Planters deeded the studio to the Southside Church of God in Christ for $10, and the church eventually tore it down. Occasionally, Mr. Bell said, he visited the vacant lot. “I’d see beer bottles and paper bags and all that,” Mr. Bell said. “It was a like a dumping ground, yet all this creativity was still vested in that soil. I would cry.”

But Mr. Bell, and Stax’s music, with its singles rereleased in very successful box sets in the ’90s, both outlasted Union Planters. Mr. Bell gradually made his way back into the entertainment business, greatly assisted by Berry Gordy Jr., the founder of Motown. “He mainstreamed me back into the industry,” Mr. Bell said.

And the Stax Museum’s opening kick-started the process of bringing Mr. Bell back to Memphis and Memphis back to him. “He has a reputation, he is a brand name, and we need him,” said Dean Deyo, president of the Memphis Music Foundation. Sometimes, Mr. Bell said, he has to pinch himself.

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Hooks Brothers Photography on display at Stax Museum

Jan 17 2014

The Commercial Appeal, Friday, February 03, 2006

By Pamela Perkins

The image of the bright-eyed little girl in a bright little dress who stares in wonder at a line of black-robed college graduates is a mystery.

So, too, are youngsters at a party in fancy suits and fancy dresses and many other faces that have been nameless for decades.

But that could change with the “Hooks Brothers Photography: 75 Years of African-American Life in Memphis” exhibit, running now through April 23 at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music at 926 E. McLemore.

A reception for the show, which opened Wednesday, will be 2 to 5 p.m. Feb. 12 in observance of Black History Month.

The exhibit includes 80 black and white portraits, candid snapshots and historic images taken by the old, family-owned Hooks Photography studio that operated in Memphis from 1907 to 1984.

“Stax was so much a part of the Memphis community and the Hooks Brothers documented the Memphis community. So I think it’s a good fit,” said Carol Drake, the museum exhibits, archives and education manager.

Brothers Henry A. Hooks and Robert B. Hooks — the uncle and father, respectively, of local civil rights leader and minister Dr. Benjamin Hooks — founded the studio on Main Street. It moved from there to Beale. After 40 years it moved to Linden Avenue, where the brothers also ran a photography school.

In the 1970s, the studio moved to 979 E. McLemore, a few doors away from the old Stax Records studio site on which the museum now stands.

Among the longest-run black-owned businesses in town, Hooks Brothers was the popular place for local black residents to get their portraits taken.

The exhibit’s images are on loan from Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss. The National Civil Rights Museum displayed some of them, different from those at Stax, in 2004.

Delta State has about 10,000 photos along with countless film negatives and turn-of-the-century glass negatives from the old photography studio.

Several faces in the Stax exhibit are easily identifiable: Benjamin Hooks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shake hands in one image. Business and political leader Robert Church Jr. throws the first pitch at a Memphis Negro League game at Red Sox park in 1932 in another.

University archivists have had a tough time identifying less notable people. The collection came to them in a jumble in 1999 from a donor who was not a Hooks family member. Cards showing names and other particulars only referred to negatives.

But most of the photos had no corresponding negatives and vice versa, said Emily Weaver, Delta State’s archivist.

That makes the exhibit an investigation, as well. Stax and university officials hope visitors will help them with names and settings.

Weaver said, “It’s great to get them back to the community that they came from so we can learn more about the images that we have … from the folks who stayed in Memphis and who recognize these images.”

– Pamela Perkins: 529-6514



What: The “Hooks Brothers Photography: 75 Years of African-American Life in Memphis” exhibit of 80 pictures

When: Now through April 23; Opening reception 2-5 p.m. Feb. 12

Where: Stax Museum of American Soul Music, 926 E. McLemore

Cost: Free with museum admission of $9 for the general public. Free to museum members.

Copyright 2006, commercialappeal.com – Memphis, TN. All Rights Reserved.

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