Otis Redding. Eddie Floyd. Sam and Dave. Johnnie Taylor. The Staples Singers. These artists are responsible for some of the greatest songs in American history. The soundtracks to not only great films, but to many of our lives. And while many people know these artists and their legendary songs, they don’t know that in the 1960’s, they were all part of the little label that could, Stax Records. Stax, also known as “Soulsville”, was the counter balance to the behemoth hit maker up north in the Motor City, Motown. While Motown cranked out hits by The Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, and a slew of others, down south in Memphis, Tennessee, a white fiddle player named Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle set out to create a place where people from all walks of life and every race could come together under one roof, and create soul music. This gritty, raw soul music sound purposefully contrasted with the polished, cross-over constructed music of Motown. The result was some of the funkiest, grooviest, down-home bone rattlin’, booty shakin’, and society quakin’ music known to mankind. There were also powerful, but gentle odes to love as well.
My father, Johnnie Taylor, was one of these artists. His song, “Who’s Makin’ Love?” was one of Stax records biggest hits, becoming the first single in American history to sell two million copies. It is widely regarded as one of Stax Records greatest hits. And it is far from alone. I recently spent some time down in Memphis getting to know Stax Records a little better. I was surprised at how much classic music had come from a small studio under the boiling Memphis sun. The biggest, and most obvious Stax star was Otis Redding. In his short career, Otis created some of the most enduring music of the 20th century, along with one of music’s most electrifying live acts. “These Arms Of Mine”, “Sittin’ On The Dock of the Bay”, “Tramp” with Carla Thomas, and “Try A Little Tenderness” are all classics, easily registering as some of Stax Records greatest hits.
Sam and Dave’s time with Stax also provided some of the best songs to come out of Soulsville. With combustable concert chemistry, and two voices that took any willing soul to “church”, Sam and Dave became two of the sixties brightest R&B stars. Their songs “Soul Man” and “Hold On, I’m Coming!” are two unforgettable Southern romps that are undeniably woven into the fabric of American music and culture.
Then there are the contributions of artists who’s tunes have been adored for decades. Booker T. and The Mg’s, the Stax house band for many years, topped the hits charts with the infectious instrumental, “Green Onions”. Eddie Floyd’s soul mainstay, “Knock On Wood”, is a song originally meant for Otis, but one which landed in more than capable hands. “Mr. Big Stuff”, a feminist anthem that still rings as true today as it did upon it’s release in 1966, shows how the artists at Stax were as dialed in to dope bass lines as well as the human condition! Speaking of the human condition, Stax, which was heavily affected by the Civil Rights events of the 60’s, produced a powerfully emotional Rights anthem hit in The Staples singers “I’ll Take You There.” “The Theme from Shaft” by Issac Hayes garnered the first Academy Award For Best Original Song winner to an African American. It also perfectly reflected the Black culture of the 70’s era with classic lines like “Can you dig it?”.
My time in Memphis and at the Stax Museum opened my eyes to the entirety of the everlasting brilliance that emanated form the little label that could. So many artists, so many classic songs, and this is just a small sample of Stax Records greatest hits. There are more stars and more songs that helped to shape not only it’s generation, but generations to come.
If you’re a fan of Stax and soul influenced music, and would like to receive free downloads from up and coming singer/songwriter Jon Harrison Taylor, go here and click “download now”. As Soul Tracks.com said, “Jon Harrison Taylor is the real deal!”