The Backbone of Stax: Mr. Al Jackson
“Listen – Sam & Dave – I Thank You MP3″
“Listen – Booker T & the MGs – Green Onions MP3″
I hope everyone is having (or by the time you read this) has had a most excellent weekend.
All is well here on the Funky16Corners home front, though I find myself sore – yes, even my typing fingers – as a result of that scourge of the suburban homeowner, yard work. That’s right kiddies, I spent the better part of Sunday morning (a time, mind you, better spent in no more rigorous pursuits than sipping coffee, drifting back to sleep and the like) clearing a bed in front of the house. This otherwise small space was literally overrun with ferns and a yew gone wild, all providing cover for a batch of sinister looking mushrooms. Armed only with my trusty hedge trimmer, a leaf blower and (insert recording of Taps here) my weed wacker – which expired as a result of this “project” – I cleared the bed, cut the shiznit out of my fingers (I had to take a break to go to the hardware store and buy work gloves to that I didn’t end up bleeding to death), and sit here now, sore of back, fuzzy of brain and filled with something less than the aura of triumph and accomplishment I was expecting.
Anyway, now that you’ve all ingested the three-volume podstravaganza of the last few weeks, I though I’d return to form with a couple of single soul servings for you to send over your lobes and into your heads.
This past week PBS ran an outstanding episode of Great Performances, dedicated to the history of the greatest pure soul label that ever was, Stax.
While I suggest that any of you that haven’t read Rob Bowman’s magnum opus on the label, ‘Soulsville USA: The Story of Stax Records’ stop reading, tear yourselves away from the interwebs and grab a copy immediately, if you reside in one of the many bookless enclaves in this culturally starved rock we call home, checking out this documentary will certainly hold you for a while.
Back in the day when I was first starting to dig soul, it was Stax, and the sound of Southern Soul that made me go further. The very first soul recording that made a serious imprint on my brain was by that label’s flagship artist, the great Otis Redding.
It was Redding’s voice – and the mighty band behind him – that really defined soul music for me with its unmistakable gospel roots mixed with the sound of the city.
Even today, thirty years later, with my soulful horizons expanding beyond anything I could have imagined as a teenager, the sound of Stax is still a touchstone for me.
Though the story was already familiar to me, the footage in the documentary was absolutely spellbinding. Though there were many clips I had never seen before, the stuff I keep coming back to is the performance footage from the first Stax/Volt Revue tour of Europe. Why this has yet to see release on its own is a mystery, as it contains some of the best (and best looking) footage of the many great performers from the Stax stable, including some literally unbelievable footage of Sam & Dave.
I was originally going to post a single track today, but the more I got to thinking about it the more I realized that no self-respecting soul blogger could broach the subject of Stax without at least a double shot of goodness.
First up is little bit of that oooooooold soul clappin’, courtesy of Messrs Moore & Prater.
The aforementioned gospel vibe is never more obvious than in the opening of the Hayes/Porter classic ‘I Thank You’ (for all I know it may have been lifted – like dozens of other soul tunes – from an actual gospel song). The verse is righteous, but when Al Jackson rolls into the chorus like a ton (and a half) of funky bricks it’s like a bolt of soul lightning setting your hair on end and knocking you flat on your ass. It’s probably my favorite Sam and Dave side, and one of the finest 45s ever to carry the Stax logo.
Part the deuce comes to us courtesy of the greatest – and most successful – “house band” of all time, Booker T & the MGs.
I can’t imagine anyone reading this blog hasn’t ever heard ‘Green Onions’ but who among us doesn’t want to hear it again?
Probably the baddest organ instro of all time (and you know how I am about that stuff), ‘Green Onions’ – recorded by the pre-Duck Dunn incarnation of the band with Lewis Steinberg on bass – is in turns bluesy, soulful, sinister and groovy (in that rugs can be cut) and conjures up all manner of pop-cult trace imagery every time it’s played. It provides the backing for one of the best scenes (the dawn drag race) in one of my all time fave films, ‘American Graffiti’ and has been used over and over again, in film, TV and advertising to represent the very essence of cool.
So go find that book, watch that documentary and dig that heavy, heavy Memphis sound.