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Profile: Stax/Volt


The Stax label, pre-1968

The Stax label, pre-1968



1957 (Memphis, TN) by Jim Stewart (b. July 29, 1930, Middleton, TN) and Estelle Axton (b. September 11, 1918, Middleton, TN; d. February 24, 2004, Memphis, TN)

Associated Labels:

Stax, Volt, Atco, Satellite, Jaxon, Enterprise, Hip, Safice, Chalice, Jotis, Warren, Ko-Ko, Arch, Ardent, Weis, Truth, We Produce, Front Page, The Gospel Truth, Dig, Partee, Fountain, Mikim, Future Stars

Famous Artists:

Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Sam and Dave, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Booker T. and the MG's, Johnnie Taylor, Luther Ingram, The Dramatics, Eddie Floyd, Jean Knight, The Mar-Keys, William Bell, Albert King, Mel and Tim, Frederick Knight, Little Milton

Contributions to music:

  • The grittier R&B counterpart to Motown's "Sound Of Young America"
  • Succeeded in marketing pure R&B to white audiences without diluting it
  • Provided an atmosphere for black songwriters and producers to maintain almost complete creative control
  • A Southern label with a multiracial business and creative makeup, almost unheard of at the time
  • Perfected soul music, injected country and gospel to form "deep" and "Southern" soul, and became an important precursor to funk and disco

Early years:

Jim Stewart, a country fiddler and First Tennessee Banker, began Stax as Satellite Records in 1957, when he began recording country artists in a North Memphis garage. Eventually, he moved operations to Brunswick, Tennessee, funded in part by his sister, Estelle Axton, who mortgaged her home to help fund the fledgling label. The final home of Satellite was the old Capitol Theater in Memphis, hollowed out and turned into a combination studio, office complex, and record store.


In 1961, Stewart recorded the Mar-Keys' instantly recognizable instrumental classic, "Last Night"; when the record broke nationally, Stewart changed the label's name to Stax so as to avoid legal action from another Satellite Records in California. (STAX stands for STewart and AXton.) Eventually, the Mar-Keys -- a high-school R&B band -- mutates into the Stax house band, Booker T. and the MGs. Between their own hits and discoveries like Otis Redding, Stax becomes the sound of Southern soul.

Later years:

After failed attempts to negotiate distribution with Atlantic, Stewart sold Stax and its other labels to film company Gulf + Western in 1968. He had a change of heart two years later, however, and purchased the label back. In its second incarnation Stax became a haven for Seventies artists like Isaac Hayes and the Staple Singers, but by 1975 disco had begun to erode soul's prominence, and the label stopped production not long after. The original studio site now functions as a Stax museum.

Other facts:

  • The Mar-Keys featured Stewart's nephew Charles "Packy" Axton on tenor sax
  • The original studio building was torn down by the Memphis Southside Church of God in Christ in 1989
  • First record released on a Stax label: "Fool In Love," The Vel-Tones (Satellite 100), 1959
  • First release with an actual Stax label: "The Life I Live," Barbara Stephens (Stax 111), 1962
  • First release on Volt: "Burnt Biscuits," The Triumphs (Volt 100), 1961
  • Last Stax/Volt release: "Holy Ghost Pt. I," The Bar-Kays (Volt 4115), 1975


926 E. McLemore Ave. Memphis, TN (Stax studios and offices)

Famous Songs, Albums, and Chart Hits:

Biggest hits:
  • "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay," "Try A Little Tenderness," "I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)," "These Arms Of Mine," Otis Redding
  • "Green Onions," "Time Is Tight," Booker T. and the MGs
  • "Theme From Shaft," Isaac Hayes
  • "Respect Yourself," "I'll Take You There," "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)," The Staple Singers
  • "Hold On! I'm Coming," "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby," "Soul Man," Sam and Dave
  • "Walking The Dog," Rufus Thomas
  • "Gee Whiz,"* "B-A-B-Y," Carla Thomas
  • "Tramp," Otis and Carla
  • "Born Under A Bad Sign," Albert King
  • "Knock On Wood," Eddie Floyd
  • "Soul Finger," The Bar-Kays
  • "Who's Making Love," Johnnie Taylor
  • "(If Loving You is Wrong) I Don't Want to be Right," Luther Ingram
  • "You Don't Miss Your Water," William Bell
  • "In The Midnight Hour,"* "634-5789 (Soulsville, U.S.A.)"* Wilson Pickett

    * recorded at Stax studios but not issued on Stax label

Essential albums:
  • Otis Blue (1965), The Otis Redding Dictionary Of Soul (1966), The Dock Of The Bay (1967), The Immortal Otis Redding (1968), Otis Redding
  • Hip Hug-Her (1967), Booker T. and the MGs
  • Hot Buttered Soul (1969), Shaft (1971), Isaac Hayes
  • Born Under A Bad Sign (1967), Albert King
  • No. 1 Record (1972), Radio City (1973), Big Star
  • That N*****'s Crazy (1974), Richard Pryor
Stax movies: "Wattstax" (1973), "Only The Strong Survive" (2002), "Soulsville" (2003)
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