From NEWCASTLE IC Website
60s stars shine again
Apr 8 2005
By Alan Nichol, The Evening Chronicle
In a couple of weeks from now that grand old dame of popular music Newcastle City Hall gets ready to receive two pivotal acts from her prime.
They are acts which defined the 50s and 60s: the former will be represented by the “Georgia Peach”, the pre-Presley pianist with that unforgettable pompadour Little Richard (more on him in a week or two), while the latter is soul music supergroup Booker T & the MGs.
The MGs sprang from the STAX record label, which epitomised Memphis soul. Royal Spades guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn would graduate from the band via the Mar-Keys to the MGs.
The original MGs (Memphis Group) line-up was Cropper, Booker T Jones (originally a sax player now on the organ), Lee Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson (drums). Dunn, however, was soon to replace Steinberg on bass.
The Mar-Keys’ debut hit was Last Night (1961) but Cropper quit during the band’s first tour and was promptly handed the keys to the STAX studio on the basis of his recording work for several other labels like Duke, Hi and Sun.
By 1962 the four-man session team of Cropper, Jones, Jackson and Dunn were Booker T & the MGs.
For the next nine years this band would work with Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Picket and many more, as well as churning out hits of their own like Green Onions, Chinese Checkers, Time Is Tight and Soul Limbo, the latter used by the BBC’s Test Match Special for years.
Cropper’s writing credits include Midnight Hour, Knock On Wood, Dock of the Bay (with Otis) and 634-5789.
So great was Steve Cropper’s contribution to the sound of this era that, even 30 years later, he was voted runner-up to Jimi Hendrix in Mojo magazine’s list of top 100 guitarists.
I managed to pose a few questions to the still extremely busy Cropper:
Is it true that your first record, Last Night, actually had no guitar on it?
“It is true there is no guitar on Last Night. Chips Moman, who engineered the song, thought I wasn’t good enough. He was a guitar player too and did give me my first session at STAX, Prince Conley’s song I’m Going Home. There’s always been some controversy about my being on that record. I helped put the song together. Packy Axton and I wrote the horn lines the day before the session and the drum intro was my idea. The truth is, I played a single whole note on the organ during Smoochie’s solo!”
When you left STAX to work with the likes of John Prine, did you feel liberated doing something new?
“The reason I left STAX is exactly that. We were not allowed to do outside sessions or projects and I thought it was time. I think Booker left for the same reason. John Prine and I have been good friends ever since but he didn’t want to make another Memphis record.”
How did the MGs view the initial impact of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in the US?
“At first we were shocked, like everybody else, but we knew they were good musicians. We didn’t know until later how much they were listening to what we were doing and getting to meet them during the 1967 tour was a blast.”
Was Otis Redding, or any of the other great singers you worked with, ever considered as a permanent vocalist for the MGs?
“In the early days we used a few different singers because we didn’t have enough songs to carry a whole show. We never really wanted a permanent singer. After the STAX-Volt tour in 1967, Otis tried everything he could to get us to be his back-up band but we were too busy in the studio, so we suggested the Bar-Kays because they grew up watching the MGs in the studio and they were good entertainers. What a devastating loss Otis’s death was.”
What advice would you give to aspiring young musicians starting out in the business ?
“Follow your dreams. You can’t make it if you don’t try.”
* Booker T Jones, Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn will all be at the City Hall (Al Jackson was shot dead in 1975) on April 23. Ticket information from (0191) 261 2606.
March 26, 2005
Stax of talent
By John Clarke
The soul of Memphis is coming to London
Otis Redding was a beauti ful person, recalls Deanie Parker, CEO of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. He was a gentleman, who was absorbed by his work.
We are sitting in Parkers office on McLemore Avenue, Memphis. Black-and-white pictures of former Stax stars adorn the walls. Until a few years ago the only clue to the areas history was a lone brass plaque in the vacant lot next door, announcing that this had once been the site of Stax records, a company with which Parker has had a 44-year association and the spiritual home of Redding, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes, Booker T and some of the greatest soul talent America has produced.
Staxs failure to counter the disco onslaught of the late 1970s, and the inevitable rise of the big money music conglomerates led to bankruptcy and the loss of the famous studios. They were sold in 1975 and finally bulldozed to oblivion in 1989, by a city blind to its musical heritage. It was devastating, says Parker. None of the performers, or the people who worked here, had the chance to exit gracefully. Thats why we are so grateful to the British, because they kept the music alive.
That gratitude is repaid in part next month at the Barbican in London, with a series of concerts and films under the strand It Came from Memphis. The city is now proud to boast that it is the birthplace of rocknroll and home of the blues, and in one of the greatest comebacks in music history, the Stax studios have been rebuilt on the original site to house a museum that celebrates American soul music in all its take it to the bridge and shake a tailfeather glory.
Memphis music is not just about Stax, of course. Before it there was the blues and Sun records, where Sam Phillips invented rocknroll and Elvis Presley defined it, and after there was Hi records, where Al Green and Ann Peebles took soul to undiscovered heights. At the nearby Muscle Shoals in Alabama, black and white were also meeting to create soul country masterworks, many of which were released by Stax. The story will be brought up to date at the Barbican with an evening devoted to Memphiss most recent movers and shakers, including the North Mississippi All Stars.
Which is where Deanie Parker comes back in. Adjacent to the museum is the Stax Academy, where the next generation of American soul stars might be in training. Part of Parkers job is to encourage new talent. For all the hits, the academy may be Staxs finest achievement. Its a safe place for children to go after school to discover their musical heritage, says Parker. We hope to give them the chance to discover talent they didnt know they had.
All of this is a basinful of hot grits away from the company she joined in 1961. Then, Stax records was a tiny concern formed by the country fiddler turned bank clerk Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton, who had just enjoyed a hit with Gee Whiz by the singer Carla Thomas. Carla was in my class at school, so I thought, if she can do it, so can I, recalls Parker. The first thing she had to do was develop her songwriting skills. Jim Stewart said to me:
You cant do other peoples songs, you have to have one of your own, so I went home and wrote a song. Then when it came to the recording session he said: Wheres the B-side? And I said: You only asked me to write one song.
But although it was an easy relationship between the white Stewart and the black Parker, the equation wasnt so simple outside the Stax studios. Travelling was difficult in those days. You couldnt go to the same hotel or the same restroom as white people. And did I want a life where I had to go onstage and perform every night? Shoot, I dont think so. So Parker became a vital member of the Stax family, writing songs, publicising records and liaising with stars such as Redding.
It was strange, when Otis was speaking he had a quiet voice. But he carried it all in his head. He would be able to go and tell the band what sort of bass line he wanted before the recording started. Reddings career was to end in tragedy when an aircraft carrying him and his band, the Bar-Kays, crashed into a lake in Wisconsin in 1967. Only one of the group survived. For Parker, a terrible sense of loss was also marked by the necessary chores of arranging funerals. There were problems getting the bodies out of the lake and then there was a funeral every day for about three weeks, she recalls. The worst day was when they brought all the luggage back. There was water still dripping off the bags.
Redding had already played his part in launching Stax towards international success, and the companys glory will be celebrated in the final evening of concerts on Monday, April 25, when the worlds most soulful instrumental group, Booker T and the MGs take the stage with such Stax stalwarts as Eddie Floyd, William Bell and Mable John.
The month-long celebration opens on April 3 with the alternative side of Memphis music, featuring appearances from Tev Falcos Panther Burns, Mud Boy and the Neutrons and those current holders of the Memphis blues flame, the North Mississippi All Stars. Muscle Shoals, where a whos who of soul stars from Percy Sledge to Etta James recorded, will feature the following Saturday (April 9), with the Stax star Mavis Staples and Bonnie Bramlett guesting with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section. Its back to the blues on April 10 with an appearance by Little Milton, who recorded for both Sun and Stax and had a string of soul-blues hits for Chess.
The Sun label itself features on April 18 when Ike Turner, the man who cut what is often thought of as the first rocknroll record, Rocket 88, in the Sun studio, guests along with the rockabilly giants Billy Lee Riley and Sonny Burgess. The other great Memphis label, Hi, gets its due on April 22 with one of the most celebrated rhythm sections in soul history backing Syl Johnson and the I Cant Stand the Rain hitmaker Ann Peebles. Add to that a series of films devoted to Memphis music and you have as big a celebration of Memphis music as you can imagine. As Parker says: You are never going to get all these stars together in the same place again.
As I go to leave, she rushes out and returns with a package. Dont open this until you get home, she says. Inside, I find an original Stax 45 from 1970, Who Took the Merry out of Christmas by the Staple Singers. The composer credit reads Deanie Parker. Seasonally, it is wrong, but the spirit, like that of Stax, remains just as strong.
· It Came from Memphis, Barbican, London EC2, from Apr 3 (0845-120 7500) www.barbican.org.uk/memphis. A record of the same name is out now on Manteca
STAX – MON 25 APR – 7.30pm
The Barbican London
IT CAME FROM MEMPHIS STAX
Booker T. & the MGs, Bo-Keys, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, Mable John
Soulsville USA, bedrock of Sweet Southern Soul Music. Stax Records is the house that Booker T. & the MGs built, playing their own hits Green Onions, Hip-Hug-Her and backing so many others, from Otis Redding to Sam and Dave. The crowning concert of It Came From Memphis features the MGs with their own set, then backing the stellar talents from Eddie Floyd Knock on Wood and William Bell You Dont Miss Your Water to the deep bluesy soul of Mable John, plus other guests to be announced.