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Stax is one of the most famous Blues and Soul record labels, which was responsible for recording some of the best known artist of that genre. It was formed in Memphis in 1957 by Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton as Satellite records but changed its name to Stax (a play on the owners surnames STewart and Axton). It will always be associated with the development of Southern Soul, Chicago Blues and early funk as well as recording some of the first ethnically mixed bands, something very rare in that period. The label finally went bankrupt in 1976 but Fantasy Records eventually bought it primarily for its superb back catalogue and since 2004 they have been re-issuing some of the more popular recording s as well as some compilations.
'The Stax Story' is a massive four cd compilation of the best of the output from the famous Stax record label covering the years 1957 to 1976.
There are a number of ways to approach compiling such a massive collection in order to represent almost two decades worth of music. You can keep the order chronological and work your way through the best of the back catalogue or you can mix and match trying to blend the different style and eras of music together to give an overall feel of the total output. This second approach is more difficult since it requires more thought about track order etc but it can also be the most rewarding for anyone new to the music. On this compilation the producers have taken this more arduous approach but they have succeeded in producing a fine collection showing off what was best about Stax.
In the mix we are presented with track by legendary Stax house band The Mar Keys including their 1961 hit 'Last Night', of course a founding member of the Mar-Keys was Steve Cropper one of the most influential songwriters and guitarist of the 60's and 70's. He went on to form along with the organ player Booker T Jones the even more famous Booker T and the MG's where he co -wrote many of their hits and went on to co- write "Knock On Wood" with Eddie Floyd, "In the Midnight Hour" with Wilson Pickett, and "The Dock of the Bay" with Otis Redding. Cropper was admired by many musicians of the time including the Beatles and for many his guitar playing was only matched and maybe surpassed by Jimi Hendrix. All these well-known hits are included on this compilation.
Evidence of Booker T and the MG's jazz tinged soulful appeal is provided with the inclusion of the finger tapping cool of Green Onions their best known hit, however many people mostly Cricket fans will also be surprised to find Soul Limbo included as the bright opening track on disc 3, its high tempo Calypso/Jazz fusion having been heard on the Test Match credits for many a year.
Any Soul compilation worth its salt has to include tracks by artist such as Otis Redding, Sam and Dave and Isaac Hayes and a Stax compilation is fortunate enough to be able to include tracks form these artist since they were all signed to the record label in the 60's and early 70's. We get the obvious standards such as 'Dock Of The Bay', '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction' and 'Mr Pitiful' as well as my personal favourite 'I've Been Loving You Too Long' from Otis Redding choices that illustrate the depth and breath of style that he could achieve with his voice. I don't think another soul artist has ever bettered the emotive plaintive qualities of his vocals.
Sam and Dave's more exuberant raunchy style of soul is well represented by such classics as 'Soul Man' and 'Hold On I'm Coming!' but it's nice to see the inclusion of some rather less well-known tracks such as 'I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down'.
When Soul met Funk just about describes Isaac Hayes' musical innovation around this time. No compilation featuring this artist would be complete without 'Theme from Shaft' which more than any other soundtrack defined the feel and atmosphere of the film. The insistent baseline, the deep sexy voice and the backing chorus of street sassy girls perfectly define the Blaxploitation genre of which 'Shaft' was the most accomplished example. Less obvious but just as welcomed in the inclusion of the Hayes' version of the Bacharac classic 'Walk On By' a song of such brilliance that it can survive indeed thrive re-workings. We all remember the near perfection of Dionne Warwick's classic original and many will feel that The Stranglers angst ridden post punk version was the definite cover version but Isaac Hayes must get a mention for the innovative version featured here. He complete re-works the song adding fuzzy sounding electric guitar accompaniment and a much slower pace and almost laconic vocals often interrupted by long instrumental solos. We mustn't forget with this song that it is about a painful break-up and while Warwick chose to express her defiance and sadness and The stranglers express their anger Hayes deals with the them in yet another way one of resignation and regret.
With such a rich back-catalogue that Stax posses even a four-disc compilation doesn't do justice to all the talent they had on their books. It is nice to see some of the lesser known artist getting as chance to shine The Staple Singers were a Gospel/Soul R &B family group formed in 1948 and including Mavis Staples who went on to have a solo career and who is still touring today. They achieved chart success with some classic soul hits such as 'Ill Take You There' and the often covered 'Respect Yourself' both included in this record along with other tracks. The Staple singer never achieved the fame or the crossover appeal of some of the other artist already mentioned but the quality of their output in the Stax years stand up to any of the other artists.
Carla Thomas daughter of another Stax artist Rufus Thomas had a prodigious output of singles on the label and is rightly prominently featured on the compilation. Known as the 'Memphis Queen' her distinctive voice made a perfect partner for Otis Redding on many hits including the sassy 'Tramp' featured here. Also included here, as the first song on Disc 1 is the hit Gee Whizz! (Look at His Eyes) coming from the 'Doo Wap' tradition, which was a defining moment for both Carla and the label fortunes. This hit more than any other pointed toward the commercial success of the label specialising in accessible well produced expertly played and arranged teen love songs that were very popular with younger Soul audiences in this period. Rufus Thomas although less commercially successful than his daughter did have a string on hits well into the 70's and is best remembered for his idiosyncratic dance numbers such as 'Do The Funky Chicken' and 'Walking the Dog' both great fun records and both included on the compilation.
Johnnie Taylor 'The Philosopher of Soul' is another artist whose fame hasn't lasted quite as well as others but whose contribution to Soul is an important one. Possibly Taylor's adaptability for singing in various styles from Soul, Funk, R&B and later Disco precluded his ability to make any one style his own, nevertheless the tracks included here and his biggest hit "Who's Making Love?" show off his vocal ability and his easy singing style to perfection. It is a bit strange however that two other of his tracks "I Had a Dream", "I've Got to Love Somebody's Baby" (both written by the team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter) are missing.
No Stax compilation would be complete without some tracks by a legend of Blues guitar Albert King. 'Born Under A Bad Sign' the title track form the classic album of the same name in included on Disc 1 and it is a classic in every sense of the word being later covered by many other artist including Cream. His very minimalist style of playing electric guitar where he stretched the notes in the way that the early blues artist did influence many guitar great like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Steve Ray Vaughn. As well as this classic track King's Stax output is further represented by Blues classics such as 'Crosscut Saw' and 'Killing Floor'.
I could spend the rest of this review outlining further the class and quality of this compilation by going through more of the individual artist and tracks but I hope you will have got a feel of the record from what I have mentioned.
I will just finish by mentioning a few of the hidden treasures included by lesser know artist such as the catchy 'Mr Big Stuff' by Jean Knight and I Got a Sure Thing - Ollie & the Nightingales.
Overall this is great and extensive compilation not only of the hits but also some more obscure recordings will give you a real flavour of what the Stax record label was about. Whether you like the straight guitar blues of Albert King, the high tempo 'behind-the-beat' brass backed soul of Sam and Dave and Otis Redding or the dance floor fillers of Eddie Floyd and Rufus Thomas there will be something to like. For anyone with a love of Soul, R&B and pre-nascent Funk this is a must and will get feet tapping and hip swaying by anyone with a musical ear.
FULL TRACK LISTING AND DETAILS
1. Gee Whiz! (Look at His Eyes) - Carla Thomas
2. Last Night - The Mar-Keys
3. Green Onions - Booker T. & the MG's
4. Walking the Dog - Rufus Thomas
5. Respect - Otis Redding
6. Hold On! I'm Comin' - Sam & Dave
7. B-A-B-Y - Carla Thomas
8. Knock on Wood - Eddie Floyd
9. Soul Finger - The Staple Singers
10. Tramp - Otis Redding, Carla Thomas
11. Born Under a Bad Sign - Albert King
12. Soul Man - Sam & Dave
13. (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay - Otis Redding
14. Private Number - William Bell, Judy Clay
15. Who's Making Love? - Johnnie Taylor
16. Time Is Tight - Booker T. & the MG's
17. Do the Funky Chicken - Rufus Thomas
18. Mr. Big Stuff - Jean Knight
19. Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get - The Dramatics
20. Respect Yourself - The Staple Singers
21. Theme from Shaft - Isaac Hayes
22. I've Been Lonely for So Long - Frederick Knight
23. I'll Take You There - The Staple Singers
24. Starting All over Again - Mel & Tim
25. I'll Be the Other Woman - The Soul Children
26. Woman to Woman - Shirley Brown
1. Cause I Love You - Carla Thomas
2. You Don't Miss Your Water - William Bell
3. These Arms Of Mine - Otis Redding
4. Can Your Monkey Do the Dog - Rufus Thomas
5. Big Party - Barbara & the Browns
6. Jump Back - Rufus Thomas
7. Mr. Pitiful - Otis Redding
8. Can't See You When I Want To - David Porter
9. Boot-Leg - Booker T. & the MG's
10. I've Been Loving You Too Long - Otis Redding
11. Candy - The Astors
12. I Want Someone - The Mad Lads
13. Philly Dog - The Mar-Keys
14. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction - Otis Redding
15. Things Get Better - Eddie Floyd
16. Let Me Be Good to You - Carla Thomas
17. I'll Run Your Hurt Away - Ruby Johnson
18. You Good Thing (Is About To End) - Mable John
19. Patch My Heart - The Mad Lads
20. Crosscut Saw - Albert King
21. I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down - Sam & Dave
22. Groovin' - Booker T. & the MG's
23. Give Everybody Some - The Bar-Kays
24. Cold Feet - Albert King
25. I Thank You - Sam & Dave
26. I Got a Sure Thing - Ollie & the Nightingales
27. Big Bird - Eddie Floyd
28. Tribute to a King - William Bell
29. I Ain't Particular - Johnnie Taylor
1. Soul Limbo - Booker T. & the MG's
2. I've Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do) - Eddie Floyd
3. What A Man - Linda Lyndell
4. I Like Everything About You - Jimmy Hughes
5. I Forgot to Be Your Lover - William Bell
6. I Like What You're Doing (To Me) - Carla Thomas
7. So I Can Love You - The Emotions
8. Walk on By - Isaac Hayes
9. Black Boy - Roebuck "Pops" Staples
10. I Have Learned to Do Without You - Mavis Staples
11. Play The Music Toronados - T.S.U. Toronados
12. Never Can Say Goodbye - Isaac Hayes
13. Breakdown, Pt. 1 - Rufus Thomas
14. Son Of Shaft - The Bar-Kays
15. That's What Love Will Make You Do - Little Milton
16. In the Rain - The Dramatics
17. Hearsay - The Soul Children
18. Ain't That Loving You (For More Reasons Than One) - Isaac Hayes, David Porter
19. Dedicated To The One I Love - The Temprees
20. Breaking Up Somebody's Home - Albert King
21. I Believe in You (You Believe in Me) - Johnnie Taylor
22. Short Stoppong - Veda Brown
23. Cheaper to Keep Her - Johnnie Taylor
24. If You're Ready (Come Go With Me) - The Staple Singers
1. Green Onions - Booker T. & the MG's
2. Raise Your Hand - Eddie Floyd
3. Something Good (Is Going to Happen to You) - Carla Thomas
4. Grab This Thing, Pt. 1 - The Mar-Keys
5. Dog - Rufus Thomas
6. You Don't Miss Your Water - William Bell
7. Soothe Me - Sam & Dave
8. You Don't Know Like I Know - Sam & Dave
9. Shake - Otis Redding
10. Try a Little Tenderness - The Bar-Kays
11. Oh la de Da - Rufus Thomas
12. (Do The) Push And Pull, Pt. 1 - Johnnie Taylor
13. Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone - Albert King
14. Killing Floor - Albert King
15. Blues Power - The Emotions
16. Show Me How - Booker T. & the MG's
17. Hang 'Em High - Isaac Hayes
18. Theme from Shaft - Isaac Hayes
19. Theme from The Men - Isaac Hayes
'The Stax Story' can be bought on Amazon.co.uk for £38.99 incl. p&p and considering the number of tracks and the quality of the material it is worth the price.
© Mauri 2007