- THIS PAGE CONTAINS -

- Stax Records -
- Former Stax Studio & Satellite Record Shop -
- Rebuild Stax Studio -
- Extelle Axton -
- Jim Stewart -


STAX RECORDS - In the 1960s and early 1970s Stax defined the sound of Southern soul with  a catalog that featured Wilson Picket, Isaac Hayes, Sam and Dave, and Booker T. and the  MG's, plus Otis Redding on its Volt subsidiary.

Located at 926 East McLemore Avenue,  headquarters was a disused movie theater, the Capitol, in a rough neighbourhood about a  mile south of Beale Street. In 1960, owners Jim Stewart ("ST") and sister Estelle Axton ("AX")  opened a small recording studio and retail record shop, and brought in guitarist Chip Moman  to rebuild the place.

He ripped out the seats, built a control room on the stage, hung  homemade drapes on the walls to help the acoustics, placed an echo chamber in the toilets,  and began developing the Stax Sound.

The candy stand in the lobby was converted into a record store, giving the label a doorstep  indicator of public tastes. When work was finished, they emblazoned the cinema awning  with the title SOULSVILLE U.S.A., a Southern retort to the HITSVILLE U.S.A. banner that  hung outside Motown's studio in Detroit. Stax Records began developing its sound around a  tightly knit mixed-race house band, the Mar-Keys, who later developed in the MG's (Memphis  Group), featuring Booker T. Jones on organ, with Steve Cropper on guitar, Donald "Duck"  Dunn on bass, and drummer Al Jackson, Jr. Disc jockey and performer Rufus Thomas brought  in his teenage daughter Carla, and her songs became the first national hits for the Stax label.

In 1965 the label found its definitive sound, punchy horns, tight rhythms, suggestive lyrics,  with Wilson Pickett's "In The Midnight Hour", Sam and Dave's "Hold On, I'm Comin'", and Otis  Redding's "Otis Blue" album, cut in 24 hours that July. More standards poured out over the  next few years, including Eddie Floyd's "Knock On Wood" and Redding's "Sittin' On The Dock  Of The Bay", recorded three days before he died, in a plane crash on December 10, 1967.

The following April, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated at the nearby Lorraine  Motel, where many Stax musicians stayed when in town. During the subsequent riots, Stax  studio was one of the places where protestors grouped, and a cordon of Memphis' finest  surrounded the building after rumours that white musicians such as Dunn and Cropper were  going to be attacked by their black coworkers. Nevertheless, the hits continued, Isaac Hayes'  triple-platinum "Hot Buttered Soul" and "Shaft" among them.

In the early 1970s, success went to Stax's head. In June and December 1973, Elvis Presley  turns the spotlight at the famous Stax studio in Memphis. No Stax staff were allowed on the  premises except the Stax musicians. Only Stax's Larry Nix was on-hand to make acetates  from the tapes for Elvis. Although the first sessions were marred by both technical problems  and the failure of Elvis' new publishing companies to deliver enough new quality material,  several great recordings emerged. Over twelve days at Stax Records in the decaying midtown  section of Memphis that he knew so well, Elvis Presley once again it all together, blues,  rhythm and country.

Unfortunately, those feelings would not last. The more success the company earned, the  more difficulty Stax seemed to have managing its business. Old partnerships dissolved, and  many of the Stax people moved away from Memphis. Stax Records filed for bankruptcy in  1975.

Bizarre signing decisions were made, and in January 1976 the label went bust.  Berkeley, California, based Fantasy Records, home of the Stax, influenced Creedence  Clearwater Revival, bought the rights to the back catalog and kept the Memphis Sound alive  for a new generation of soul fans, but in the 1980s Soulsville U.S.A. was torn down.

The former Stax Studios and Satellite Record Shop on 926 East McLemore Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee, 1989. >

Through much of the 1980s and 1990s, Stax activities focused exclusively on re-issues.  Because Atlantic owned (and still owns) most of the Atlantic-era Stax master recordings  released up to May 1968, the Atlantic-controlled material has been reissued by co-owned  Rhino Records or licensed to Collectables Records.

Fantasy, meanwhile, also repackaged and re-released the Stax catalogue it controlled, on the  Stax label. Because Fantasy owned the non-master recordings of all Stax material, for  several of its Stax compilations, Fantasy issued alternate takes of the Stax hit recordings in  place of the master recordings owned by Atlantic.

In 1988, Fantasy issued the various artists album Top of the Stax, Vollume 1: Twenty  Greatest Hits. This marked the first time an album was issued with both Atlantic-owned and  Fantasy-owned Stax material; it was issued by arrangement with Atlantic Records. A second  volume was released by Fantasy in 1991.

In 1991, Atlantic issued The Complete Stax/Volt Singles 1959-1968, a nine-disc compact disc  boxed set containing all of the Atlantic-era Stax a-sides. This release earned Grammy Award  nominations for boxed-set producer Steve Greenberg in the Best Historical Album category  and for writer Rob Bowman in the Best Album Notes category. The boxed-set was certified  gold in 2001, the largest collection of CDs ever to have earned that certification. Fantasy  followed their lead and issued volumes two and three of the Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles  series in 1993 and 1994, respectively. Volume Two compiles the Stax/Volt singles from 1968  to 1971, while Volume Three completes the collection with the singles issued from 1972 to  1975. Volume Three earned a Best Album Notes Grammy Award for Rob Bowman. In 2000,  Fantasy issued a boxed set titled The Stax Story, which includes pre-1968 material by  arrangement with Atlantic.

After a decade of neglect, the Southside Church of God in Christ tore down the original Stax  studio in 1989. Over a decade later the Stax Museum of American Soul Music was  constructed at the site and opened in 2003. A replica of the original building, the Stax  Museum features exhibits on the history of Stax and soul music in general, and hosts various  music-related community programs and events.

Estelle Axton and Jim Stewart founders of Stax Records. >

JIM STEWART - is a former record company executive and producer who co-founded Stax  Records.  Born July 29, 1930 and on a farm in Middleton, Tennessee, Stewart moved to Memphis in  1948, after graduating from high school. 

He worked at Sears, at First National Bank, and  then was drafted into the United States Army. After serving for two years, Stewart returned  to his job as a bank clerk in Memphis in 1953.


Stewart was a country fiddle player from Middleton, Tennessee. He moved to Memphis with  musical ambition, joining the Canyon Cowboys while making his living as a bank employee. 

His sister Estelle, who worked for another bank in Memphis, became an equal partner with  Stewart in the Satellite label, launched in 1957 on the model of fellow Memphis label Sun  Records. The fifth release on Satellite, ''Gee Whiz'' (1960) by Carla Thomas, became a huge  national hit (number 5 rhythm and blues, number 10 pop) in 1961 after it was leased to  Atlantic.

When the Mar-Keys’ instrumental “Last Night” became a national hit in 1961, it was  discovered that there was another label with the same name in California. To avoid  litigation, the Memphis-based Satellite became Stax (deriving from the names STewart and  AXton).

By this time, after a tip from local producer Chips Moman, Stewart and Axton had taken over  an old movie theater at East McLemore and College streets in Memphis. Neighborhood  musicians began hanging around 932 East McLemore Avenue, including organist Booker T.  Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Donald ''Duck'' Dunn and drummer Al Jackson, Jr.  Thus, Stax acquired a peerless house band that also came to include the renowned Memphis  Horns (Andrew Love, Wayne Jackson and Joe Arnold).

Stax signed such artists as Otis Redding, who recorded for the sister label Volt from 1962  until his death in 1967. A distribution deal with Atlantic Records resulted in the larger, New  York-based company sending some of its premier soul acts to record at Stax. (That same deal  also gave ownership of Stax’s master recordings to Atlantic, which became a sticking point  when the deal came up for renewal in 1967.) Stewart, who was involved in many aspects of  the company’s operation, also brought to the label local songwriters Isaac Hayes and David  Porter. Hayes and Porter became Stax’s equivalent to Motown’s Holland-Dozier-Holland  songwriting team. In 1965, Stewart made a key hire, appointing Al Bell - a popular black  deejay from Washington, D.C. - Stax’s national sales director.

Stax thrived during the 1960s and early 1970s, generating an awesome string of soul and  rhythm and blues hits with their bread-and-butter artists, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Carla  Thomas, Booker T. and the MG’s, while breaking such acts as Eddie Floyd (''Knock On Wood'',  ''Raise Your Hand''), Johnnie Taylor (''Who’s Making Love''), the Staple Singers (''I'll Take You  There'', ''Respect Yourself''), Jean Knight (''Mr. Big Stuff''), the Emotions (''So I Can Love  You''), Mel and Tim (''Starting All Over Again''”), the Soul Children ''I'll Be the Other Woman'')  and William Bell (''I Forgot to Be Your Lover''. Even comedian Richard Pryor was a Stax artist,  having been signed to the label’s Partee subsidiary. House songwriter and sideman Isaac  Hayes became a star in his own right with a series of albums released on Stax’s Enterprise  subsidiary, including the number 1 Shaft soundtrack.

Jim Stewart sold his interest in Stax to Al Bell in 1972, and the company continued until  forced into bankruptcy in 1976. Interest in the label and its legacy were rekindled in the  Nineties with the release of three massive box sets, comprising 28 CDs between them, that  include every single released on Stax and its subsidiaries.

In April 2001, further recognition of Stax’s legacy came in the form of a groundbreaking for  the Stax Museum of American Music and the adjoining Stax Academy and Performing Arts  Center on East McLemore Avenue in Memphis. “It’s been a long time coming,” guitarist Steve  Cropper noted with understatement.

The label begun by Jim Stewart back in the late Fifties is finally being recognized as a  priceless institution that contributed substantially to America’s musical culture.

When Jim Stewart was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, he sent his two  granddaughters to the induction ceremony to accept the award on his behalf.

ESTELLE AXTON - was the co-founder, with her brother Jim Stewart, of Stax Records. Born  on September 11, 1918 in Middleton, Tennessee, Estelle Stewart grew up on a farm. She  moved to Memphis as a school teacher, married Everett Axton, and was working in a bank  when, in 1958, her brother Jim Stewart asked for help to develop Satellite Records, which  he had set up to issue recordings of local country and rockabilly artists. She convinced her  husband that they should remortgage their house and, in 1959, joined Satellite as an equal  partner. The following year, Axton and Stewart turned the Capitol Theatre, in a black  Memphis neighbourhood on McLemore Avenue, into a recording studio and record shop, and  began making hit records with predominantly black artists.

Satellite was forced to change its name after it was discovered that a Los Angeles label  already owned the title, and it changed its name to Stax, taking its name from Axton and  Stewart's surnames. Axton was actively involved with selecting and developing the artists on  the label, who included Rufus Thomas, Otis Redding, Booker T & the MGs, and Isaac Hayes.

She sold her interest in the company in 1970. After the non-compete agreement expired,  Axton formed Fretone Records whose biggest hit, "Disco Duck" by Rick Dees was licensed for  distribution to RSO Records. In December, 2006, The Recording Academy announced that  Estelle Axton would be honored with a Trustee's Award as part of the upcoming Grammys.

Estelle was the founder of the Memphis Songwriters Association in 1973. The Memphis  Songwriters Association was formed in order to foster the education and advancement of  local area songwriters. There was a focus on the development of the songwriting craft with  the intentions of producing commercially viable songs and improving performance skills.

MSA has consecutively maintained membership for over 35 years. Estelle's formation of the  Memphis Songwriters Association led to the motivation of many local songwriters and  singer/songwriters publishing their original material. Some of these songs and artists met  with some surprising success. Unfortunately, historical records are fragmented and scarce,  however, there is a number of MSA alumni that could still tell the stories.

Estelle went on, with friend and founder of Moon Records, Cordell Jackson to work with the  Music Industries of Memphis, later named the Memphis Music Association to assist in the  development of local Memphis music as a global force once again. Their collaboration and  guidance helped launch the first Memphis Demo Derby, the brainchild of PR Director Brett  Hamilton, which was designed to present and showcase any and all Memphis musical talent  to A&R reps, studio heads, producers and the like. The event was such a huge success, it  continued for several years. Joe Savarin, founder of the Handy Awards, and Wanda Freeman  of Tenant Laboratories lent a hand in spite of public opposition. The MMA was the umbrella  organization for all Memphis music and still exists today.

The Memphis Songwriters Association is still consistently holding meetings, songwriter  workshops, open mics, song critiques, and singer/songwriter showcase events to this day.  Estelle Axton died of natural causes on February 25, 2004 at the age of 85.


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