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    -  -  -  -  -      STAX      -  -  -  -  -   

 

 

926 East McLemore Avenue is the home of the STAX Museum of American Soul Music (www.staxmuseum.com), which opened in 2003. STAX is the heart of Soulsville, USA and during its prime from 1960-75, STAX produced 167 Top 100 songs in the Pop Charts and 243 Top 100 songs on the Rhythm & Blues charts in America, such as “Soul Man”, “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay”, “Shaft” and “Hold On, I’m Comin”, and having released over 800 single 45s and over 300 LPs in its 15-year history of operation.

The names of the artists that recorded at STAX and both lengthy and legendary in the annals of American Music:
Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T & The MGs, Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, The Barkays, The Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, Albert King and Little Milton.

Begun in Brunswick, a little town in the northeast sector of Shelby County, by a brother and sister (Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton) as Satellite Records in 1958, the first national hit was “Last Night” by the Mar-Keys. But the name Satellite was already claimed by another label in California, so the name was changed to reflect the first two letters in the last names of the brother/sister – “ST” from STewart and “AX” from AXton = STAX. STAX Recording Company.

Stewart and Axton relocated in 1961 to the former Capitol Theatre on McLemore Avenue in a changing south Memphis neighborhood full of talent and spirits, hopes and dreams of many African-Americans. brotherhood -Soulsville, USA. The doors opened and the music began. On site was also Satellite Record Shop, which was stocked more soul music recordings than any other record shop in Memphis.

At its height in the late 1960s, STAX was one the most successfully integrated companies in Memphis and was the fifth largest African-American owned employer in the nation. But the December 10, 1967 plane crash in Wisconsin that took the life of Otis Redding and all but two members of the Barkays, also took the breath out of STAX, as well. A few months later in Memphis (April 4, 1968), the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the nearby Lorraine Motel bottomed out the Wattstax (see www.wattstax.com), the concert was held in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on August 20, 1972, and was organized by STAX to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Watts riots. Wattstax was seen by some as "the Afro-American answer to Woodstock. To enable as many members of the black community in L.A. to attend as possible, tickets were sold for only $1.00 each. The Reverend Jesse Jackson gave the invocation, which included his "I Am – Somebody” poem, which was recited in a call and response with the assembled stadium crowd.

By 1975, STAX had fallen into bankruptcy, the catalogue sold and the building closed. For fourteen years the building lay vacant becoming a victim of urban blight, vandalism and the elements of nature. By September, 1989, the wrecking ball came to STAX and there was nothing left to let any passerby know of the “Cradle of Soul Music” in America, other than a vacant lot and one small historical marker.

Several days before the final walls were razed, an offer was made by Sidney Shlenker, at that time the developer of record for The (yet-to-be-open )Pyramid and operator of Mud Island, to salvage some aspects of the structure. Architects were allowed to measure the current structure for possible reproductions and fabrication in a music exhibit in The Pyramid – plans which subsequently were helpful in the re-building of STAX to the exact dimensions at the same location.

I was the General Manager of Mud Island at that time, and we sent a maintenance crew (led by John Moore) over to STAX to cut the tile wall from the building entrance with the intentions of placing it on display in one of the five music galleries in the Mississippi River Museum on Mud Island. The crew gave quite a salvage effort in cutting the piece, studs and all, from the building entrance where the former movie theatre ticket booth had once existed. The piece weighed about five hundred pounds and was about (W) 5’X (H) 6’in size (just barely fitting into the back of a pickup truck). The tile was cleaned and repaired (a few of the 3,350 tiles were missing) under the watch care of the museum staff (Chip Reed and Susan Elliott) and then installed in time for Mud Island opening day in the Spring, 1990.

When plans began surfacing in the early 2000s for the new STAX Museum of American Soul Music, there was a call for objects (recording equipment, signs, guitars, music equipment, performance outfits, memorabilia, etc). Even Isaac Hayes’ Cadillac was found!

Who would have thought in 1989 at the low moment of the memory of STAX, that by 2003 the STAX Tile Wall would be returned home to its original location at 926 East McLemore Avenue as a cornerstone for one of the best museums in the country, where it had been positioned for more than twenty years (in the 1960-70s & even during the blight of the 1980s) greeting all comers into STAX?

This picture includes the legendary Al Bell, former CEO of STAX (and MOTOWN) and current President and Chief Executive Officer of Al Bell Presents and Chairman of the non-profit Memphis Music Foundation, the STAX Tile Wall and Jimmy Ogle, taken on April 29, 2010 at 926 East McLemore Avenue. On December 22, 2010, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (or  like in The Grammys) announced that Al Bell will be one of the recipients of its Trustees Award, which is the equivalent to its Lifetime Achievement Award for performers. He will receive the award on February 12, 2011 at the Grammy Special Merit Award ceremonies in Los Angeles and he will be recognized during the Grammy telecast the following evening.

 

Well, here it is and there you go . . .
another winding road for another piece of Memphis history.

Next “Detour”
Coming Soon

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