When it comes to soul, Stax Records owned the '60s. Classic records from Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Rufus & Carla Thomas, and a legion of others helped transform what was once known as rhythm 'n' blues into rugged, emotionally bare "soul" music. This made Stax one of the decade's most influential labels of any genre. It all crescendoed in 1968, a tempest-tossed year when the label redefined its own sound and, in the process, channeled a larger historical zeitgeist.
Stax '68: A Memphis Story, out on October 19th via Craft Recordings, captures this crossroads in stunning, beautiful detail. The five-disc box set contains the A- and B-sides of every single released under the Stax banner in 1968, including the company's sub-labels. With a 56-page book including revelatory, in-depth liner notes by Andria Lisle, Robert Gordon, and Steve Greenberg, as well as rare and previously unseen photos, the set presents more than 120 songs from this unprecedented creative period in American music. Some tracks are by soul legends (Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, William Bell, Booker T. & The M.G.'s, Johnnie Taylor) and some come from the deeper Stax catalog, and are equally incredible artists (Linda Lyndell, The Soul Children, The Mad Lads).
The collection will also be released digitally, and in the four weeks leading up to the release, one instant grat single download will be offered per week, with all digital pre-orders. The first instant grat single, "Long Walk to D.C." by The Staple Singers, will be available on September 21st. The second instant grat, "Used to Be Love" by Lindell Hill (available digitally for the first time), will be available on September 28th. "Send Peace and Harmony Home" by Shirley Walton becomes available as an instant grat on October 5th. The final instant grat track, "Going Back to Memphis" by Billy Lee Riley (available digitally for the first time), will be available on October 12th.
Deluxe bundles featuring a limited edition Stax '68: A Memphis Story poster, letter-pressed using authentic vintage materials from the Globe Collection and Press at MICA, are available at the Stax Records online store.
Click here to pre-order the exclusive deluxe bundle at Stax store.
Click here to pre-order the Stax '68: A Memphis Story 5-CD set or digital album.
The Stax '68: A Memphis Story box set release coincides with two extraordinary exhibits presented by the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis, Tennessee; The Sound of '68 and Give A Damn! Music+ Activism at Stax Records. More details on each of these below.
The Year's Defining Moments in Relation to Stax:
Three earth-shattering events altered the state of Stax in '68. America reeled following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose death occurred practically in Stax's back yard. The resulting social, political, and cultural cataclysms profoundly affected the label's direction. Stax was also working overtime to reinvent itself in the wake of Otis Redding's untimely December '67 passing and the dissolution of a deal with Atlantic Records that gave the label perpetual rights to Stax's back catalog. When the deal ended, Stax also lost one of their leading artists, Sam & Dave, who were signed to Atlantic, but released their music on Stax.
Redding's iconic "(Sittin' on the) Dock of the Bay" and Sam & Dave's "I Thank You" were the label's first singles of '68. The former showed how much Redding was evolving and how much Stax (along with the rest of the world) had lost with his passing. The latter, like "Dock of the Bay," was a huge hit on both the Pop and R&B charts, underlining Sam & Dave's crossover potential. Both were essentially the artists' Stax swan songs.
Without Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and all the fruits of their labor up to that time, Stax could easily have folded. Instead they bore down, found a way forward, and followed it to further glory. The impact of Redding's death was felt even in Eddie Floyd's "Big Bird," written about Floyd's attempt to fly to Redding's funeral, but the song's stomping, rock-informed feel foreshadowed Stax's decision to widen its net and expand its aesthetic to embrace everything from psychedelic rock to Motown-style sounds.
Shirley Walton's shimmering, gospel-tinged "Send Peace and Harmony Home" had been written by Al Bell, Eddie Floyd, and Booker T. Jones, as a dedication to Dr. King, and as a reaction to the escalating tension in the city. In the middle of the recording session, word arrived of his murder, and a teary-eyed Walton delivered what became an ode to the man's message in the aftermath of his assassination. "Long Walk to D.C." was conceived as a tribute to King's March on Washington, but by the time The Staple Singers cut it for Stax in '68, it was equal parts Civil Rights anthem and eulogy.
The Soul Children's "Give 'Em Love," with a propulsive vibe more pop-friendly than funky, was emblematic of Stax's new openness to Motown influences. The paisley-patterned psychedelia of Dallas rockers Southwest F. O. B.'s "Smell of Incense" (featuring future pop titans England Dan & John Ford Coley) on Stax subsidiary Hip showed the R&B hub's willingness to rock a bit.
Plenty of Stax's biggest names appear on Stax '68, with cuts both unexpected and classic. Staff writer/producer/musician Isaac Hayes' first record under his own name included "Precious Precious," a surprising, swinging dash of soul jazz. William Bell's often-covered crossover hit "I Forgot to Be Your Lover" and Johnnie Taylor's Pop and R&B smash "Who's Making Love" showed that Stax still had more than enough musical muscle to ascend, despite all its tribulations.
The whole world was changing in 1968, but Stax's powerful portion of that evolution/revolution is captured step by soulful step in Stax '68: A Memphis Story.
The Stax Museum of American Soul Music Exhibits:
The Sound of '68 at The Stax Museum of American Soul Music documents life inside Studio A at Stax Records as seen by Don Nix, an early member of the Stax family who later became a songwriter, producer, and solo artist for the label, and Alan Copeland, the drummer for a Memphis garage band, The Poor Little Rich Kids. Nearly 40 black and white and color images of Steve Cropper, Jim Stewart, Isaac Hayes, and The Staple Singers show a vibrancy, determination, and spirit of teamwork that would launch the company into an era of great success. The exhibit opens September 4th and closes November 30th.
The Give A Damn! Music+ Activism at Stax Records is hosted by, and located at, Crosstown Arts in Memphis. The exhibition is the culmination of a year-long examination of Stax Records and its commitment to political activism, community engagement, and social justice in the years following Dr. King's death. It features never-before-seen artifacts, including Isaac Hayes' 14-foot long, custom-made office desk, stage clothing worn by Johnnie Taylor and Isaac Hayes, rare photos and documents, short films, music, and original artwork contributed by Shelby County students. The exhibit opens September 28th and closes November 25th.
Click here for details on both exhibitions.
Track listing for Stax '68: A Memphis Story:
5-disc CD Box Set (digital album mirrors the physical track listing)
Otis Redding: "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay"
Otis Redding: "Sweet Lorene"
Sam & Dave: "I Thank You"
Sam & Dave: "Wrap It Up"
The Memphis Nomads: "Don't Pass Your Judgement"
The Memphis Nomads: "I Wanna Be (Your Lover & Your Honey)"
Shirley Walton: "I Was Born to Love You
Shirley Walton: "I'm so Glad You're Back"
Otis Redding & Carla Thomas: "Lovey Dovey"
Otis Redding & Carla Thomas: "New Year's Resolution"
Ollie & the Nightingales: "I Got a Sure Thing"
Ollie & the Nightingales: "Girl, You Have My Heart Singing"
Eddie Floyd: "Big Bird"
Eddie Floyd: "Holding on with Both Hands"
Bar-Kays: "A Hard Day's Night"
Bar-Kays: "I Want Someone"
Johnnie Taylor: "Next Time"
Johnnie Taylor: "Sundown"
William Bell: "Every Man Oughta Have a Woman"
William Bell: "Tribute to a King"
Mable John: "Able Mable"
Mable John: "Don't Get Caught"
Rufus Thomas: "The Memphis Train"
Rufus Thomas: "I Think I Made a Boo Boo"
Jeanne & the Darlings: "What Will Later on Be Like"
Jeanne & the Darlings: "Hang Me Now"
Derek Martin: "Soul Power"
Derek Martin: "Sly Girl"
Linda Lyndell: "Bring Your Love Back to Me"
Linda Lyndell: "Here I Am"
Carla Thomas: "A Dime a Dozen"
Carla Thomas: "I Want You Back"
Kangaroo's: "Groovy Day"
Kangaroo's: "Every Man Needs a Woman"
Isaac Hayes: "Precious Precious"
Isaac Hayes: "Going to Chicago Blues"
The Mad Lads: "Whatever Hurts You"
The Mad Lads: "No Time Is Better Than Now"
Otis Redding: "The Happy Song (Dum-Dum)"
Otis Redding: "Open the Door"
Albert King: "(I Love) Lucy"
Albert King: "You're Gonna Need Me"
Johnnie Taylor: "I Ain't Particular"
Johnnie Taylor: "Where There's Smoke There's Fire"
Eddie Henderson Quintet: "Georgy Girl"
Eddie Henderson Quintet: "A Million or More Times"
Shirley Walton: "Send Peace and Harmony Home"
Shirley Walton: "The One You Can't Have All by Yourself"
Booker T. & The MG's: "Soul Limbo"
Booker T. & The MG's: "Heads or Tails"
Eddie Floyd: "I Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do) "
Eddie Floyd: "I'm Just the Kind of Fool"
Delaney & Bonnie: "It's Been a Long Time Coming"
Delaney & Bonnie: "We Just Been Feeling Bad"
Linda Lyndell: "What a Man"
Linda Lyndell: "I Don't Know"
Harvey Scales & The Seven Sounds: "Broadway Freeze"
Harvey Scales & The Seven Sounds: "I Can't Cry No More"
Johnny Daye: "Stay Baby Stay"
Johnny Daye: "I Love Love"
Bobby Whitlock: "Raspberry Rug"
Bobby Whitlock: "And I Love You"
Judy Clay and William Bell: "Private Number"
Judy Clay and William Bell: "Love-Eye-Tis"
Jimmy Hughes: "I Like Everything About You"
Jimmy Hughes: "What Side of the Door"
The Delrays: "Lollipop Lady"
The Delrays: "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me"
Lindell Hill: "Remone"
Lindell Hill: "Used to Be Love"
The Aardvarks: "Subconscious Train Of Thought"
The Aardvarks: "Unicorn Man"
Fresh Air: "Somebody Stole My Gal"
Fresh Air: "Somebody Stole My Gal" [Instrumental]
Judy Clay: "Bed of Roses"
Judy Clay: "Remove These Clouds
The Staple Singers: "Long Walk to D.C."
Staple Singers: "Stay With Us"
The Soul Children: "Give 'Em Love"
The Soul Children: "Move Over"
Johnnie Taylor: "Who's Making Love"
Johnnie Taylor: "I'm Trying"
Rufus Thomas: "Funky Mississippi"
Rufus Thomas: "So Hard to Get Along With"
Carla Thomas: "Where Do I Go"
Carla Thomas: "I've Fallen in Love "
The Mad Lads: "So Nice"
The Mad Lads: "Make Room"
Charmells: "Lovin' Feeling"
Charmells: "Sea Shell"
Jeanne & the Darlings: "It's Unbelievable (How You Control My Soul)"
Jeanne & the Darlings: "I Like What You're Doing to Me"
Southwest F. O. B.: "Smell of Incense"
Southwest F. O. B.: "Green Skies"
The Village Sound: "Sally's Got a Good Thing"
The Village Sound: "The La La Song"
Eddie Floyd: "Bring It on Home to Me"
Eddie Floyd: "Sweet Things You Do"
Booker T. & The MG's: "Hang 'Em High"
Booker T. & The MG's: "Over Easy"
Ollie & the Nightingales: "You're Leaving Me"
Ollie & the Nightingales: "Showered with Love"
The Pop Corn Generation: "Kitchy Kitchy Koo"
The Pop Corn Generation: "Shake It"
Bar-Kays: "Copy Kat"
Bar-Kays: "In the Hole"
Dino & Doc: "Mighty Cold Winter"
Dino & Doc: "A Woman Can't Do (What a Man Do)"
William Bell: "I Forgot to Be Your Lover"
William Bell: "Bring the Curtain Down"
The Goodees: "Condition Red"
The Goodees: "Didn't Know Love Was so Good"
Mable John: "Running Out"
Mable John: "Shouldn't I Love Him"
Billy Lee Riley: "Family Portrait"
Billy Lee Riley: "Going Back to Memphis"
Judy Clay and William Bell: "My Baby Specializes"
Judy Clay and William Bell: "Left Over Love"
The Soul Children: "I'll Understand"
The Soul Children: "Doing Our Thang"
The Staple Singers: "The Ghetto"
The Staple Singers: "Got to Be Some Changes Made"
Albert King: "Blues Power"
Albert King: "Night Stomp"
The Epsilons: "The Echo"
The Epsilons: "Really Rockin"
Rufus Thomas: "Funky Way"
Rufus Thomas: "I Want to Hold You"
The Generation: "The Children Have Your Tongue"
The Generation: "Give Her What She Wants"
Daaron Lee: "Who's Making Love"
Daaron Lee: "Long Black Train"
Johnnie Taylor: "Take Care of Your Homework"
Johnnie Taylor: "Hold on This Time"