Sunday, February 24, 2013

Stax Records: I'll Take You There

Being that we have arrived at the fourth week of the month of February, we again feature a particular record label and some of its offerings during the next seven days. For this month, I’ve chosen to feature Stax Records out of Memphis, Tennessee. The label was a rebrand of Satellite Records that was founded in 1957. The name change occurred in 1961 and was an amalgamation of the surnames of its two owners, brother and sister Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton.

The label was poised for R&B history as prior to rebranding Satellite (and later Stax and its subsidiary Volt) signed a distribution deal with Atlantic Records. Stax signed and recorded the artists and Atlantic took Stax to a national audience.  This arrangement lasted until 1967 when Atlantic was sold to the Warner Brothers/Seven Arts and Stax was relieved of its contract; however, all back catalog material that was distributed by Atlantic remained under that label.

In 1968, Paramount Pictures/Gulf+Western took ownership of Stax Records; however, Jim Stewart and Al Bell dissatisfied with the arrangement, bought Stax back in 1970. Bell bought out Stewart in 1972, and to make a long story short, the label had a multitude of problems including competing with its new distributor CBS Records. Stax declared bankruptcy in 1975 and Fantasy Records would later gain control of its current catalog, the unreleased masters, and the label’s brand.

From 1978-1981, Fantasy reinvigorated Stax and it had a limited amount of success both as a reissue label and a haven for new artists. In the 1980s, Fantasy was able to release alternate versions of the songs owned by Atlantic. Since these were different from the masters owned by Atlantic, Fantasy was able to release songs from Stax’s golden age without violating copyright laws. Stax would remain a reissue label until Fantasy’s new owner, Concord Music Group, fully reinvigorated the label in 2006.

One of the biggest hits of Al Bell’s era of Stax was released by The Staple Singers – “I’ll Take You There.” The song which alludes to heaven was sung by Mavis Staples and contrary to popular belief only features family members on vocals. Instrumentation was provided by the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section and the Memphis Horns.

The guitar solo that is often credited to Roebuck “Pops” Staples was actually played by Eddie Hinton. Three other guitarists (Terry Manning, Jimmy Johnson, and Raymond Banks) all played on the cut. Manning also provided the harmonica and was an engineer on the song. “I’ll Take You There” was a #1 record on both the Hot 100 and the R&B charts. It vies with “Let’s Do it Again” as being the bands most popular recording.

This past Thursday, Cleotha Staples, the oldest of the five children of Roebuck "Pop" and Oceola Staples, died at 78 following nearly a decade battle with Alzheimer's disease. 

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