Sunday, December 30, 2012

Photo-of-the Week #87 - Memphis Musical History - Stax Records, Memphis, Tennessee, June 2003

If the names Booker T & the MG's, Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, The Bar-Kays, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes, The Mar-Kays, The Staple Singers and a number of other soul singers, groups and composers bring back memories (hmmm, you'd have to be of a certain age, I suspect), they all have two things in common. First, they were all part of the Memphis music scene during the late 50's, 60's and part of the 70's. Second, they were all affiliated with Stax Records and some of its derivative labels, like Volt and Satellite.

This week's photo is of the Stax Museum in Memphis. The studios and labels were owned and operated by Jim Stewart and his sister, Estelle Axton at this location. The company moved to the old Capitol Theater at 926 East McLemore Avenue in South Memphis during the summer of 1960. The labels produced southern soul, R&B, jazz, funk and gospel music. Booker T. Jones was the Booker T of Booker T & the MG's. One of their hits was called "Green Onions" in 1962. The MG's were also the Stax studio band and appeared on hundreds of records backing up other Stax artists. The Satellite Record Shop next to the Stax (Capitol Theater) Studio was operated by Estelle Axton, who handled the finances and accounting for the Stax company.

The building you see in the photo is a recreation. After the demise of the company through bankruptcy in 1975, the building was turned over to the Southside Church of God in Christ in 1981 by the bank. They tore the entire building structure down in 1989. The land sat vacant until a group of philanthropists gathered the funds to buy the land in 1998 and began construction of the museum in 2001. The museum opened to the public in 2003.

What you see in the photo is a facade designed to appear like the original structure. Inside is not a recreation of the original structure. The museum fills the building and has a variety of  exhibits, including some equipment that may have actually been in the studio during its operational days. I enjoyed my tour and I met some interesting people while I was walking through. One of them was a fellow from the Netherlands who travels the world tracking music, studios and the history. He and I chatted at some length and both agreed that for the general public, the museum was more than adequate. However, he and I shared the same disappointment from our perspective as "industry professionals." Even the curator of the museum, who we both spoke with, had very little real knowledge of the history, technical aspects and other details we felt he should have known. However, it was still worth the price of admission and I'd recommend it if you're ever visiting Memphis and love great music from the period.  

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