There was a pivotal point in the musical development of the Memphis sound, especially with Stax Records, which employed over 200 people from the black community in production, accounts, song writing and other general company activities. This was unheard of in the 1960s. Before its demise, Stax placed 167 songs in the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart and 243 songs in the Billboard Soul and R&B Singles Chart charts; it became the fifth largest African-American owned US business in 1974, with Al Bell as president of the company. Also by the end of the 1960s the record industry in Memphis was having a tremendous impact on the local economy, with over $30 million in generated revenue.

Stax set an example of how an integrated business could develop and grow into a very prosperous operation. It was to have a remarkable influence on other white and black recording companies. According to “Soulville USA; The Story of Stax Records”, in 1973 Memphis was the fourth largest recording and entertainment centre in the world, in terms of revenue and creative output. Stax also became one of the first record labels to develop into a multi-media company with production activities in movies (the Wattstax documentary and free Wattstax festival), sound track albums, major music festivals and tours.

It all started in 1957 when Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton set up a recording studio with a loan of approximately $2,500, having taken out a second mortgage on Estelle’s home as security. The following year they moved to the old, abandoned Capitol Theatre on McLemore Avenue. They rented the building for one hundred dollars a month and converted it into a recording studio and record shop. In 1960, WDIA disc jockey Rufus Thomas and his daughter Carla Thomas recorded a song called “Deep Down Inside” for the Stewart and Axton record label Satellite Records, as it was then called. Then in 1961 Satellite Records became Stax Records, combining the first two letters of each of the owners’ last names (ST and AX) to form the new name. For the next fourteen years, the hits from the studios at the corner of McLemore and College just kept on coming.

The names of the major artists who recorded at Stax Records make up an impressive list:

Booker T & the MGs, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, the Mar-Keys, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Johnnie Taylor, William Bell, the Bar-Kays, Albert King, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes, Judy Clay and Arthur Conley should feature in every soul fan’s collection.

Photo:  Daniel Hartwig   2007