Stax Records

Stax Records is an American record label, originally based in Memphis, Tennessee. Founded in 1957 as Satellite Records, the label changed its name to Stax Records in 1961. It was a major factor in the creation of Southern soul and Memphis soul music.

JimStewartEstelleAxtonRenowned for its output of R & B music, the label was founded Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton.

JimStewart1Stewart was a part-time fiddle player and joined a local country music group, the Canyon Cowboys.

SatelliteRecords1Stewart launched his own record label, then called Satellite Records which issued country music and rockabilly records.

EstelleAxtonHis sister, Estelle Axton, mortgaged her home to invest in her brother’s venture by buying an Ampex 300 tape recorder & the Capitol Theater building.

StaxLogo2The label’s name ‘STAX’ is a combination of STewart and AXton.

CapitolTheater1In 1959, the label moved into the former Capitol Theatre in Memphis. Located at 926 E McLemore Ave, in Memphis. The auditorium was converted to studio space, and the stage was made into the control room. To save money, Stewart did not level the floor. This created unique acoustics, which are noticeable in the recordings made there, with many featuring a heavy, bassy sound.

CapitolTheater2While Stewart ran the recording studio where the auditorium had been, Axton ran the Satellite record shop, which she established in the cinema’s old foyer, where the refreshment stand had been. (The store later expanded next door into a vacated barber shop.) The Satellite store sold records from a wide variety of labels, which gave the Stax staff first-hand knowledge of what kind of music was selling—and was subsequently reflected in the music that Stax recorded.

JimStewart2Stewart made a distribution deal in 1961, giving Atlantic Records first choice on releasing Satellite recordings. From this point on, Stewart focused more and more on recording and promoting rhythm and blues acts. Not having really known anything about the R&B genre prior to having recorded acts such as the Veltones and Rufus & Carla, Stewart likened the situation to that of “a blind man who suddenly gained his sight.” From 1961 on, virtually all of the output of Satellite Records (and its successor labels Stax and Volt) would be in the R&B/Soul style.

BooketT&theMGsStax records featured several popular ethnically integrated bands (including the label’s house band, Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Stax also had a racially integrated team of staff and artists unprecedented in that time of racial strife and tension through out the South.

DockOfTheBayThe label’s biggest early star, soul singer Otis Redding, also arrived in 1962. Redding, however, technically was not on Stax, but on its sister label Volt. In that era, many radio stations, anxious to avoid even the hint of payola, often refused to play more than one or two new songs from any single record label at one time, so as to not appear to be offering favoritism to any particular label. To circumvent this, Stax, like many other record companies, created a number of subsidiary, or sister labels. Volt, founded in late 1961, was the label home to Otis Redding, the Bar-Kays, and a handful of other artists.

HoldOnI'mComingVolt releases were initially issued by Atlantic through its subsidiary Atco Records. Other Stax subsidiaries over the years included Enterprise, Chalice (a gospel label), Hip, and Safice.

MrPitifulThrough 1966 and 1967, Stax and its subsidiaries hit their stride, regularly scoring hits with artists such as Otis Redding,

SoulManSam and Dave,


bookertmgsgreenonionGR45WMP& the M.G.’s,

  KnockOnWoodEddie Floyd,

  WalkinTheDogRufus Thomas,

BearCatwho originally recorded on Sun Records also from Memphis, in the 1950’s.

OtisReddingFollowing the death of Stax’s biggest star, Otis Redding, in 1967, and the severance of the label’s distribution deal with Atlantic Records in 1968, Stax continued primarily under the supervision of a new co-owner, Al Bell. Bell expanded the label’s operations significantly, in order to compete with Stax’s main rival, Motown Records in Detroit.

  InTheRainDuring this period acts like the Dramatics,

StartingAllOverAgainMel & Tim,

ThemeFromShaftIsaac Hayes,

IllTakeYouThereand the Staple Singers became the top acts at the label.

PB10074ADuring the early 1970’s the Stax recording studio was accepting outside work again. In July and December 1973, Elvis Presley recorded three albums at Stax: “Raised on Rock”, “Good Times” and “Promised Land”. These L.P.s produced several hits for RCA, the label to which Elvis had been signed since 1955. Those being “I’ve Got A Thing About You Baby” (No. 39 Pop / No. 4 C&W), “If You Talk In Your Sleep” (No.17 Pop) b/w “Help Me” (No. 6 C&W), “Promised Land” (No. 14 Pop) b/w “It’s Midnight” (No. 9 C&W) and ”My Boy” (No. 20 Pop / No. 14 C&W).

WhatchaSeeIsWhatchaGetDuring the mid-1970s, a number of factors, including a problematic distribution deal with CBS Records, caused the label to slide into insolvency, resulting in its forced closure in late 1975.

StaxLogo3Concord Records acquired the Stax label in 2004, then reactivated, and is today used to issue both the 1968–1975 catalog material and new recordings by current R&B performers. Atlantic Records continues to hold the rights to the majority of the 1959–1968 Stax material.

CapitolTheater3The original Capitol Theater, which became home to Stax/Volt records is now the Stax museum. It is one of only a handful of museums in the world dedicated to soul music (the Motown Museum in Detroit is another).

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