The Sounds of Stax

April 18, 2007

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Fifty years ago, a tiny record store in an old movie theater in Memphis grew to become one of the most important recording studios in history. That studio and the company it spawned was Stax Records. The sound was raw, sweaty, meaty, and propelled by powerful horns and a fat backbeat. Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, the Staple Singers, Sam and Dave, Rufus Thomas, and Wilson Pickett are just some of the artists that made the Stax name famous.

But a series of financial problems killed the label in the mid-1970s. Since then, the master tapes have fallen into the hands of California-based Concord Records which recently reactivated the Stax name.

Meantime, Chicago's Black Ensemble Theater decided to pay homage to the era of Stax and the music with their new production Memphis Soul: The Story of Stax Records.

Eight Forty-Eight's Richard Steele recently sat down with the theater's founder Jackie Taylor, who's also the director and producer of the show, and musical director Jimmy Tillman. Tillman says it was Stax's house rhythm section, known as Booker T and the MG's, that really helped define the Memphis Soul sound.