Stax started life as the Satellite label in 1959. The founders were brother and sister, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton. Satellite Records was renamed Stax in 1961. The name was formed by the first two letters of Stewart and Axton and the studio concentrated upon Southern soul music featuring a mix of both black and white musicians and production staff. The roots of soul music lay somewhere between Blues (which praises fleshy desire and human frailty), and Gospel (spiritual inspiration). Soul music was born in Memphis and featured melancholic and melodic horns, organ, bass and drums. The first successful artists were Rufus Thomas and his daughter Carla Thomas.
Whilst Stax stable brought forth many artists it was like Tamla Motown in Detroit and held a group of studio based musicians who appeared on most of the recordings What the Funk Bros did in Detroit, Booker T and the MGs and the Memphis Horns (a splinter horn section of the Markeys) were the resident house bands for Stax.
Mar-Keys (formerly known as The Royal Spades) were signed to the company and shortly after Booker T Jones joined the label. They soon began performing as Booker T. and the Memphis Group in 1962. Many people associated MGs with the sports car from Abingdon, England which did Stax and the band no harm. Booker T & the MGs was made up of Booker T Jones, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, and Al Jackson. All were to appear in the movie the Blues Brothers which became a cult film in the 80s.
Al Jackson can be heard on drums on many Stax releases. Each of the classy hits hold their own stories and legends about just how they came about like the Stax Classic, In the Midnight Hour (1965). Appeared Wilson Pickett and Steve Cropper were sent to a motel room with a supply of Jack Daniels and told not to come without a hit song.
William Bell started with Stax in 1961 and began writing with Booker T Jones not long after. In 1965 the pair scored a hit with "Crying All By Myself " which was issued with a flip side "Don't Stop Now". All nighters, i.e. dance clubbers picked it up and the song remains a firm favourite ever since.
Many other hits followed with the best known in coming in 1968 " A Tribute To A King". This was written a few days after the tragic Death of Otis Redding.
Isaac Hayes was an important songwriter, producer, and session pianist during the company's earlier period; with David Porter, he was responsible for writing and producing Sam and Dave's "Hold On, I'm Coming" and "Soul Man."
On his own, Hayes developed a unique blend, part jazz, part soul, part easy listening. He talked on his records in a mellow, bantering manner, and he used an orchestra to provide instrumental cushioning. In many ways Hayes was a founding father of the sweet soul of the 1970s. Stax sadly became bankrupt in 1975 with virtually all the assets, including masters, both completed and unfinished recordings, together with all Stax contracts, were purchased by Fantasy Records.
Worth a listen:
Walking the dog
Booker T and the MGs
In the Midnight hour (1965)
Sitting in the Dock of the Bay
A tribute to the king (1968)