Would you believe that Stax started as a country label but through gospel almost inadvertently gained an interest in soul music. Not bad for a label that along with the more commercially popular Motown is the most influential in black music( Though you could throw in reggae labels like Trojan if you were feeling picky )It's initial success rooted from the deep South with it's heavy gospel influence ushered in one revolution in black music but after the death of Otis Redding in 1967 and the disbanding of Sam & Dave, the label marshalled a new brand of soul all over again led by Isaac Hayes. It ,s this ability to adapt and innovate that makes this such an important label , as well as the brilliant music of course.
Jim Stewart along with Estelle Axton founded the label in Memphis as "Satellite " records but it wasn't till 1961 that the label achieved it's first top ten hit with the gospel harmonies of "Gee Whiz( Look At His Eyes)" by Carla Thomas. It was the formation of it's in house rhythm section Booker T & the MG,s that really nailed the Stax sound . The horn section , which later became The Memphis horns , provided brassy backing, funked up and slinky, and their three tracks-"Green Onions " , Soul Limbo" (Or the cricket music as it was known in my formative years) and "Time Is Tight"- on this fifty track compilation are instantly recognisable classics .
The emergence of Otis Redding , a singer of truly outstanding emotive talent , gave the label further credence , not to mention some of the songs he wrote -"Respect" and the ever superb "(Sittin On) The Dock Of The Bay"- a song that still gives me goose bumps bigger than maltesers. Add to that the emollient tones of Sam & Dave , the bluesy Albert King , and the graceful ballads of William Bell and the label had a formidable array of talent .
Even after Booker T & the MG,s influence waned, at least on the playing side( the band did more administrative work than session playing as the sixties merged into the seventies) the label under the guidance of Al Bell continued to prosper and not just that either. Former songwriter, producer and session player Isaac Hayes became an artist in his own right mixing up funk , jazz , soul and mellifluous easy listening to startling and groundbreaking effect . The albums "Shaft" ( Which kick started the blaxploitation movement and meant Stax became central to black America's disenchantment with society and those in power ) and "Hot Buttered Soul" ( A work of genius which should be in any albums to hear before you die list) sold millions of copies . Then there were The Staples Singers commercial gospel sound , the close knit harmonies of Mel & Tim, the more classic Stax Soul Children and oddities like the swinging irreducible "Mr Big Stuff".
Something went badly wrong somewhere however , as the label was declared bankrupt in 1975 amid allegations of financial corruption and mis-management. In 1977 all Stax,s assets , including all contracts and masters were purchased by a group who then licensed "Fantasy" records to handle all Stax product (as they put it) It may be product to some but to most , it's timeless evocative brilliance and it's good to know that their artists and legacy is still being appreciated today and that's why this release is the least this defining label deserves.