Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Stax Sound: Now we're cooking

By Wayne Shelor

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You’ll certainly recognize today’s celebrated song as one of Wilson Pickett’s immortal fist-to-the-face soul classics: “In The Midnight Hour.” You may also find familiar the great spray of horns in the song’s intro and throughout, a brassy sound that was an integral component of the Stax label’s home-cooked soul sound.

What you may not know is that the Stax label, out of Memphis, Tennessee, was founded by a white brother-and-sister team who created the Stax name from the first two letters of their last names: Jim Stewart ... and Estelle Axton. S-T-A-X, arguably the most integrated – literally and figuratively – studio of the 1960s.

Stax was an oasis for black soul artists in the early 1960s, stars such as Booker T. & The MGs, Otis Redding and Eddie Floyd. In the 1970s, as Stax was bought and sold and restructured and its vast catalogue of songs falling into the hands of several other large corporations, its finances were manipulated to the point that the IRS stepped in.

As a viable label, Stax was ... cooked. But its songs live on through continual re-issues, to the financial benefit of musicians such as Donald “Duck” Dunn and Steve Cropper, a couple of Stax’s great session men who’ve always preferred to stand on the periphery of the limelight.

Guitarist and songwriter Cropper -- he co-wrote “In The Midnight Hour” with “Wicked” Wilson Pickett -- and bassist Dunn are two of the band members you’ve seen countless times with The Blues Brothers revues and other bands. Cropper and Dunn, a couple of white soul brothers, helped create the musical signatures that define “The Stax Sound.”

So whether it’s the percolating drums, the swaggering bass line or the inimitable horn lines, you should remember that the Stax Sound is the result of a number of great musical chefs cookin’ up aural masterpieces using a tried and true recipe.

You can still find Stax music on the shelves of your local music dealers and all over the Internet. Why not play some when you go to bed – there’s nothing quite as filling as a heapin’ helpin’ of down-home soul. Especially when served up ... at the midnight hour.

Six String Sanctuary contributor and audiophile Wayne Shelor might be found spinning records at any hour of the day or night with that twinkle in his eyes.

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