"The death of Otis and the Bar-Kays dimmed their soul. The pillaging by Atlantic tore at their self-respect. The assassination of Martin Luther Kind choked their heart. In a state of shock, Stax was a body getting cold." (1968)
Not as smooth as Motown, not as mammoth as Atlantic, not as blues-based as Chess, Memphis records label Stax nonetheless produced some of the most soulful and gritty black music of the 60s and 70s. This history traces the label from its humble roots to its stunning success to its sad decline and fall. Founded by two white siblings, Stax released albums by iconic artists like Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, the Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas, and Isaac Hayes. Like Muscle Shoals and Motown, it had more or less a house band (Booker & the M.G.s) and brought together some of the most creative singers, musicians, and songwriters. The first half is the most exhilarating and writer Robert Gordon also ties the music in with the racial tensions and civil rights movement of the period. Otis Redding and his band's plane crash was a tremendous blow, both personally and professionally, but the label regrouped and had success in the 70s with songwriter turned star Isaac Hayes and the Wattstax concert. The second half of the book deals more with the economic side of the label, which is mostly depressing, and Stax's ignominious end. Regardless, its legacy, both musical and cultural, is enormous and the book is a fine tribute to the label and the extraordinary artists who were part of the Stax family. Also check out "Soulsville U.S.A." and "Otis!"
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