Give me about a half a teacup of bass, a pound of fat back drums, four tablespoons of boiling Memphis guitars, a little pinch of organ, a half a pint of horns. Place on the burner, bring to a boil…now beat – well! The recipe given to us by King Curtis on the hit Memphis Soul Stew.
Named after an Egyptian city Memphis lays at the cross roads of the South. The medium sized city is one of the World’s richest musical hot spots. Sun Records based in Memphis released the early works of Elvis and Johnny Cash in the fifties and in the sixties Stax and Hi records released equally groundbreaking artists in Otis Redding, Al Green, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes. The Sound was gritty and revealed the Church’s influence. Booker T’s MG’s would be the backing band on most of the hit’s from Stax records and their influence in popular music remains in the work of Soulive, Galactic, the Budos Band, and The Daptones. Otis Redding and Al Green brought an emotionalism to Soul making deeply romantic music. Al Green preaches in a Memphis church to this day and never really left. Isaac Hayes worked both as business head and chief songwriter for Stax Records. His solo work defined orchestrated Soul, set the sound of Blaxplotation soundtracks with Shaft, headlined WattSatx, as well as being a beloved cartoon character. Though Stax was fully integrated in both sound and business the appeal to “cross over” as Motown attempted never was really an option in the South, which kept the Soul in Memphis dirty and funky. Wildly popular Radio DJ turned wildy popular singer Rufus Thomas was the self proclaimed “Funkiest Man Alive”. Carla Thomas of “Tramp”was her Pop, together and separate they created some of Stax’s most fun records like “The Breakdown”, “Do The Funky Chicken” and “60 minute Man”.
Memphis for a time forgot it’s legacy in music and the movie theater that became the studio for Stax, producing it’s city’s legendary Soul fell to disrepair and was for years a vacant lot. In the new millenium the label has reformed producing new music, the vacant lot has become the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Graceland has past kitsch and is an honest historical attraction and Sun Records is busy now as a tourist destination. But most importantly the South invisioned in the Soul music of Memphis, one without segregation and equality has come closer than ever.