Stax Records: The Forgotten Label

Thesis

Many people have heard of the infamous label Motown. However, there were other soul labels that had great success. One of these labels is Stax Records.

Beginning

Stax records were originally based in Memphis, Tennessee. It was founded in 1957 as Satellite Records, the label changed its name to Stax Records in 1961. The label was founded by two siblings and business partners, Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton.

Satellite’s early releases were country music, rockabilly records or straight pop numbers. However, when Stewart met Chips Moman, an American record producer, guitarist, and Grammy Award-winning songwriter he was introduced to rhythm and blues and stuck in that lane.

The summer of 1959, Stax released their first rhythm and blues song “Fool in Love”, by the Veltones.

Following their hit, Stax records was able to sustain another hit, “Cause I Love You” by Carla and Rufus Thomas. The song sold over thirty thousand copies becoming their biggest hit at that time.

Artists

Soul singer Otis Redding joined the rooster in 1962.

Redding’s first single, “These Arms of Mine,” was an instant hit on the R&B and pop charts.

Stax records was home to the songwriting team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter.

 

 

The house band, Booker T. and the M.G.’s, were breaking down the door for integrated bands. It was unheard of to have Black and White musicians playing together especially in the south.

New Leadership

Al Bell became the company’s vice president and a co-owner.

Bell undertook an ambitious project; to make Stax not only a major recording company, but also a prominent force in the black community.

Bell even created a comedy label, Partee Records, which released albums from Richard Pryor and Moms Mabley.

Unfortunate Circumstances

On December 10, 1967,  Otis Redding, as well as all but two of the members of the Bar-Kays, died in a plane crash.

Stax Records was able to recover by pushing Issac Hayes to the forefront. Hot Buttered Soul was originally seen just as a solo artistic project for Hayes to make up the numbers. However, it went on to sell over three million copies in 1969. By 1971, Hayes was established as the label’s biggest star and gaining stardom for his best-selling soundtrack to the 1971 blaxploitation film Shaft.

The label also enjoyed great success when it had the Staple Singers shift from Gospel music to mainstream R&B.

The Fall

However, that all came to end when Stax/Volt Records was forced into involuntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy on December 19, 1975, and was closed by order of a bankruptcy judge on January 12, 1976.

Conclusion

Stax records didn’t have a long-lasting run like Motown, but the label was able to shape the sound of R&B music and help other people recognize the talent of Memphis sound and soul. Even with the sudden shutdown, the music still lives on.

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