Stax Records

Alex and Stax sign

The building that used to stand here was originally a movie theatre. Stax Records tore out the seats and converted it to a recording studio. It's a fair drive from the Lorraine Motel (maybe a mile), but lots of musicians who were recording at Stax used to stay at the Lorraine, familiar from the days of the old jazz and blues circuits when it was a blacks-only motel. (The Lorraine is only a few blocks south of Beale Street.)

In 1968, when Martin Luther King was shot at the Lorraine and rioting spread everywhere, Memphis police came down here after rumors that white Stax musicians were going to be attacked.

We saw the original Stax Records neon signs that used to decorate the front of the place in a blues joint on Beale Street, near our motel. Beale Street, by the way--even though there are no pictures here--has been completely redone over the past several years, and is a great place to visit, with a blues museum and lots of live music. They've managed to keep a lot of the original flavor (Schwab's Drugstore is still in business), though a Hard Rock Cafe has also moved in.

Alex doing a kick at Stax

Alex is standing on a rock in what must have originally been the foyer of the movie theatre.

When Stax Records took over the theatre, they converted the old refreshments counter into a record store, Satellite Record Shop (Stax was originally Satellite Records).

A few days before we started this trip, Doug saw Booker T. and the MG's play at Tramps in New York City, and heard Steve "the Colonel" Cropper tell the story of how he used to work at the Satellite record store, and there was this kid who would always come in and ask for jazz records, and they'd get into conversations about music.

That kid was Booker T. Jones, and he, Steve, and two others eventually became Booker T. and the MG's, who were the house band at Stax for years, appearing on more than 600 Stax albums, including 10 of their own.

So this is where all that happened. A lot of musical history took place where this vacant lot is today.

(If you've ever seen The Blues Brothers, by the way, you've seen two of the MG's play--Steve Cropper and Donald "Duck" Dunn are in the Blues Brothers band. Dunn is the bass player who smokes a pipe. Steve is the long-haired guitar player with a beard. The name MG's comes from Memphis Group.)

Otis Redding recorded "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" here in December 1967, three days before he died in a plane crash. Isaac Hayes recorded "Shaft" here. Sam and Dave recorded "Soul Man" here, and Wilson Pickett sang "In the Midnight Hour."

Stax shacks

The Stax neighborhood was our first real contact with Southern poverty. We didn't get a sense of hostility most places we went, but in our shiny white rental car, we might as well have been Martians in the landscape, and a lot of people did stare at these strange out-of-towners. Stax is in a pretty run-down section of Memphis. (For a bigger picture of the shack across the vacant lot, click on the picture.)

Funny thing is, Stax is just a few blocks from Elvis Presley Blvd., which runs between Graceland and Sun Records. Everything's pretty close there. (The first demo of "Green Onions," which was a Stax release, was pressed at Sun, from tapes made at Stax, to see how it would do on the radio.)

Memphis: Graceland . . . Lorraine Motel . . . Stax Records . . . Sun Records . . . Highway 61

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