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stax records

Stax Records

Stax Records was founded in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.A., in 1957, by:

Jim Stewart

and, his sister:

Estelle Axton

The label name was formed from the first two letters of the founders surnames.

Jim 'St'ewart and Estelle 'Ax'ton.

Jim Stewart

Jim Stewart (b. 29th July 1930, Middleton, Tennessee, U.S.A. d. 5th December 2022, U.S.A.)

Stax was originally named Satellite Records, and was founded by Jim Stewart.

The company originally operated out of a garage in Memphis.

The company changed it's name, in 1961, to Stax following the discovery of another label which traded under the Satellite imprint.

Estelle Axton

Estelle Axton

Estelle became involed financially in the company in 1958.

McElmore Avenue

Stax operated in Brunswick, Tennessee, briefly, before moving into an old movie theater, the former Capitol Theatre, at 926 East McLemore Avenue in South Memphis.

Stax originally began releasing Country music material, however, the label soon gravitated towards the Black Music genre largely as a result of the neighbourhood which the comapny operated within.

Jim Stewart was a white country fiddle player, had little previous knowledge of, or interest in, rhythm and blues music.

Satellite 45

Whilst still operating under the Satellite umbrella, the label began recruiting the likes of Carla Thomas and her father Rufus Thomas to the company roster.

The father and daughter duo came to the attention of Atlantic Records, who subsequently had the first option of the performers releases.

The Markeys the markeys

Satellite also signed the Markeys, whose 1961 single release 'Last Night' was the first single released on the label.

Markeys 45 last night by the markeys

The Markeys used to go under the name of the Royal Spades.

The success of the single brought to the attention of Jim and Estelle the other Satellite imprint, thus the company name change.

Booker T Jones booker t jones

Pianist Booker T Jones then joined the label.

He teamed up with the members of The Mar-Keys, forming Booker T. and the Memphis Group, who were later to become Booker T. & the MGs.

The group soon became Stax's version of the Motown House band the Funk Brothers.

Booker T and the MGs

booker t and the mgs

'Green Onions', the fine instrumental by Booker T. And The MGs, was a bestseller and defined the sound that established the studio's reputation.

Jim Stewart mainly concentrated on the running of the recording studio (where the auditorium was siuated).

The Stax recording studio had a sloped floor where the seats had once been.

This imbalance created an acoustic quality which became unique to the Stax sound.

Estelle Axton estelle axton at stax

Estelle Axton ran the Satellite record shop where the refreshment stand was situated.

The two ventures complimented the labels production and sales sides, which enabled the pair to educate the staff as to the audience direction the music was targeting.

Between 1959 and and 1968, Atlantic Records distributed much of the Stax output.

Otis Redding otis

By the mid-1960s, Stax Records were having hits with artists such as Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Carla Thomas, William Bell, Booker T. & the MG's, and the Bar-Kays.

Several Stax hits were written and produced by the team of Isaac Hayes & David Porter.

Wexler, Sam, Dave, Al Bell

jerry wexler, sam and dave and al bell

Jerry Wexler frequently brought some Atlantic artists to Memphis for recording sessions at Stax.

Wilson Pickett's hits were Stax songs, as they were recorded at Stax and backed by Booker T. & the MGs, yet released on Atlantic.

Sam and Dave, a duo act on the Atlantic roster, were leased to Stax, who oversaw the music and released the producton the Stax label.

The label toured Europe at the time, taking the likes of Carla Thomas, Sam and Dave, Booker T and the MG's and Otis Redding to a huge response.

Plane Crash otis' plane crash

Otis Redding's death in 1967, as well as all but two of the members of the Bar-Kays, died in a plane crash on the 10th of December 1967.

The Funeral otis' funeral

There was soon to see a change in the label direction.

After 1968 the label was sold to the Gulf and Western conglomerate and Atlantic ceased it's distribution arrangements.

Al Bell, the Stax marketing executive, then took over the running of the label with Estelle selling her shares and Jim taking more of a backseat role.

Lorraine Motel lorraine motel

Additionally, the killing of Martin Luther King, in the local Lorraine motel (which many of the Stax recording artists utilised), changed the directions of many perceptions in America's Southern States and saw the label become a predominantly African American run business.

Martin Luther Kings Killing the balcony

The medics were late arriving at the scene, as it was impossible to contact the emergency services without the aid of the switchboard at the time. When the receptionist there heard the gunshot, she ran out to see the proceedings, had a heart attack and died four days later.

Al Bell moved Stax into a more corporate style of company, pehaps expanding at a rate of knots which ignored the finanicial constraints of the label.

Stax did lose several of the labels artists, however, new blood was recruited and the sound continued to mature.

Johnnie Taylor gave Stax its first big post-Atlantic hit with 'Who's Making Love' in 1968.

Isaac Hayes began recording as a solo performer releasing 'Hot Buttered Soul' , which sold over three million copies in 1969.

By 1971, he was the label's biggest star, having a huge hit with the title track to the 1971 Blaxploitation movie 'Shaft'.

His recordings were among the releases on a third major Stax label, Enterprise, which had been founded in 1967.

Although the hits did arrive from time to time, the mis-management of Gulf and Western led to poor sales.

In 1970, Jim Stewart and Al Bell re-purchased the Stax label, although, two years down the line, Jim Stewart had begun using his own finances in an attempt to keep the label afloat.

In 1972, Al Bell bought the label from Jim Stewart outright and negotiated a deal with CBS Records.

Bell re-designed the Stax logo and began expanding the company into various media area interests.

Frederick Knight, the Staples Singers and the Soul Children were added to the company roster, whilst Bell began recording music away from the Memphis Studio's thus precipitating the end of the 'Stax Sound'.

On the 20th of August 1972, the Stax label presented a major concert, Wattstax, which featured several performances by Stax recording artists.

Wattstax reverend jesse jackson at wattstax

Wattstax was hosted by Reverend Jesse Jackson and drew a crowd of over 100,000 fans.

The last big chart hit for Stax was 'Woman to Woman' from Shirley Brown in 1974.

By 1975, all of the secondary Stax labels had folded, with only the main Stax label remaining.

Al Bell attempted to stave off bankruptcy with bank loans from Memphis' Union Planters Bank, while Jim Stewart mortgaged his Memphis mansion to provide the label with short-term working capital.

The Union deal failed and Jim Stewart lost his home as a result.

Stax/Volt Records was forced into involuntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy on the 19th December 1975.

Issac Hayes sued for non-payment of royalties and despite Jim Stewart's best efforts, Stax was closed down on 12th January 1976 on the order of the bankruptcy court judge

The McLemore Ave. headquarters was not sold until 1981, when United Planters deeded it to the Southside Church of God in Christ for ten dollars.

After a decade of neglect, the Southside Church of God in Christ tore down the original Stax studio in 1989.

Ten years on and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, was constructed at the site and opened in 2003.

Fantasy Records continued to release product under the Stax banner after the label folded, releasing box set after box set of older material into the new Millennium.

Concord Records purchased the Fantasy Label Group in 2004, and in December 2006 announced the reactivation of the Stax label.

The formal relaunch transipred in 2007.

The first acts signed to the new Stax include the late Isaac Hayes, Angie Stone (who released her fourth studio album, 'The Art of Love & War', and Soulive.

Further artists, including Nikka Costa, Teena Marie and Lalah Hathaway, have been recording for the label to this date.

Stax Records

Stax Logo

... for further information regarding the label, check out the excellent site at Soulsville U.S.A.


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