Are you a fan of Soul music? Have you ever heard of Otis Redding or Isaac Hayes? Do you know the songs, “I’ll Take You There”, “Soul Man”, or “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”? If you answered “Yes!” to any of these questions, then you know Stax Records. On this episode of The Axiom Amnesia Theory, Heit & Cheri discuss and share interviews from their recent trip to visit The Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis, TN.
Topics discussed include the history of Stax Records, Stax Museum, the history of Soul music, Soulsville Charter School, Stax Music Academy, the role of race in the record business and the music industry, a virtual tour of the museum, the mission of The Soulsville Foundation, and more!
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- June is Black Music Month upon the decree of President Jimmy Carter in 1979.
- Heit & Cheri talk about their second trip to Memphis during may. It was during this trip that they had the opportunity to visit the Stax Museum Of American Soul Music.
- Discussion about the history of Stax Records.
Stax Records, a name which is synonymous with Southern soul music, began as Satellite Records in Memphis in 1959. Founded by Jim Stewart, a former country fiddler, and Estelle Axton, whose son Charles “Packy” Axton was a saxophonist with the original Mar-Keys, the company had its first Top Ten hit in 1961 with “Gee Whiz” by Carla Thomas. During the next few years Stax developed a brand of music which was to have worldwide repercussions. With its house rhythm section, better known as Booker T. & the MGs, its tight horn section, which later became the Memphis Horns, and its gospel-rooted recording artists – Otis Redding, Sam and Dave – Stax virtually created contemporary soul music, both on its own records and as a Southern base of operations for Atlantic artists such as Don Covay and Wilson Pickett.
- You’ve probably heard many of the artists who worked with Stax like, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, The dramatics, Little Milton, Johnnie Taylor, Otis Redding, and others.
- We discussed our last visit to Memphis and the National Civil Rights Museum on Episode 177: “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop…”
- When we heard that Stax was in Memphis, we knew we had to check it out! Memphis is a very impressive city.
- Discussion about some of the songs that came out of Stax, “Tray a little Tenderness”, “Soul Man,” “I’ll Take You There,” “Mr. Big Stuff”, “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay”,and other popular songs.
- Discussion about the history of Stax Records as explained by our tour guide, Kenon Walker.
- Discussion about the differences between Stax and Motown. Motown was a very polished operation, whereas Walker describes Stax as “A big happy accident that was meant to be.”
- Discussion about the role of race relations in the music.
- Many of the Stax artists had huge success overseas, and had no idea that they were famous there until they toured.
- Discussion about the hard times that led to Stax closing. Toni, our Memphis correspondent, explained what happened.
- Discussion about the museum, music academy, and charter school that exists in the same location where Stax Records used to be.
- It is wonderful that they were able to take all of the history, culture, and music and turn it into something that will benefit the kids.
- The museum just had their 10th anniversary.
- Discussion about an idea of what the museum has to offer.
- The first thing you can do is view a movie that will give you the history of Stax and where they are today. There is great music. Heit was singing really loud while we were in the movie!
- One of the first things you’ll see on the tour is a church. Kenon Walker explains the role of the church in Soul music. this was an actual church that they had moved to the museum. It was originally built in 1906. It was the actual church of one of the Stax Records executives.
- This was such a learning experience. They explain to you that Gospel + Blues = Soul music. Life struggles were also reflected in the music.
- During the tour, you get to hear the music, see the costumes, and view the recording equipment.
- Stax was originally recording on a one-track recorder! these days, you might record using 100 tracks.
- Discussion about how the vocals were recorded on one side and the majority of music was recorded on a separate track. They used this to try to make it sound a bit more stereo. You always hear the vocals in those old songs on one side.
- Discussion about the dance floor and disco ball.
- Discussion about Isaac Hayes’ green and gold Cadillac with white fur in the place of the carpet.
- Interview with Kenon Walker, the tour guide who developed the guided tour.
- Discussion about the idea to develop the music academy, which then included the idea to also have a museum on the grounds. The idea for the charter school came later. All of these buildings work together to enlighten the public on Soul music history, as well as to enlighten people about what is happening on the school and academy campuses.
- Kenon Walker explains that, “Stax gave Black kids a chance at a time when society wouldn’t give black kids a chance… It gave them a place to express their talent and fine-tune it.”
- Many of the students who attend the school come from the neighborhood.
- The music academy helps the kids to learn to play instruments and engineer music.
- The main focus of the charter school is to get the kids into college. So far, every single Senior who has graduated from the Soulsville Charter School has gone on to college. The first graduating class was in 2012.
- Discussion about the charter school and how people can find out more information about the school and academy. There is a long waiting list because the program isn’t offered anywhere else in the city of Memphis. For more information, visit http://www.staxmusicacademy.org/ and http://www.soulsvillecharterschool.org/.
- Most people don’t realize that their is a school and academy on the museum grounds.
- People are often not aware that some of their favorite songs are Stax songs. Stax also had a lot of sub-labels–Enterprise Records and Bolt Records, for instance.
- Discussion about David Parks as a success story from the Stax Music Academy. He is the lead bassist for Sean Kingston today.
- Discussion about the bass sound in the Stax music.
- Kenon Walker confesses that he comes from an acting background, but the exposure at Stax has encouraged him to become a musician. He is learning to play the guitar.
- Discussion about the 10th anniversary of the museum. The remaining living founder, Jim Stewart attended the event.
- If you only visit one of the music museums in Memphis, then you are only getting a part of the music story. There were quite a few different genres of music that became popular in Memphis–Soul, Blues, Country, and Rock ‘n Roll.
- We encourage you to visit The Stax Museum of American Soul the next time you’re in Memphis. For more information, please visit the Stax website, or call 901-942-SOUL.
Stax Museum of American Soul Music
926 E. McLemore Ave.
Memphis, TN 38106
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