The finger snap logo of the Stax record label is as instantly recognisable as the sweet music that was recorded for it. It all began in 1957, when Jim Stewart began recording local Country and Western acts at his home studio based in a garage, releasing the records on his own Satellite record label, based in Brunswick, Tennessee.

Looking to upgrade his recording equipment, he asked his elder sister Estelle Axton for a loan. They teamed up and moved to 926 East McLemore Avenue, South Memphis.

Estelle ran the Satellite Record shop at the front of the building. That summer they recorded ‘Cause I Love You’ by local disc jockey Rufus Thomas and his daughter Carla. Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records became aware of the siblings output and optioned future releases in a five-year deal.

In June 1961, a local band called The Mar-Keys, had a hit with the song ‘Last Night’, hitting the top three on the pop charts. In that band, alongside Estelle’s son Packy, was Steve Cropper and Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, more of whom later.

Taking the first two letters from his surname and the first two letters from Estelle’s surname, they came up with the name Stax.

Local piano player, Booker T.Jones teamed up with the aforementioned Cropper and Dunn, along with drummer Al Jackson to form Booker T. and The MG’s (standing for Memphis group).  Used alongside ‘The Memphis Horns’ as backing on many of the classic recordings, the group produced ‘Green Onions’ in September 1962.

A perennial mod classic if ever there was one

In 1962, a spare half hour of studio time was left over from a Johnny Jenkins recording session for Atlantic. This was handed to his driver, one Otis Redding, who used the time to record a song he had also written, called ‘These Arms of Mine’. A star was well and truly born that day.

By this time, Atlantic Records was sending down it’s own performers to record at Stax, Sam and Dave, and Wilson Pickett among them. There they joined recent Stax signing’s Eddie Floyd and William Bell among others. Also working out of the studio at this was the song-writing duo and producers Isaac Hayes and David Porter. Among the songs they wrote for Sam and Dave includes ‘Hold On I’m Coming’ and ‘Soul Man’.

December 1967, saw Otis Redding and some members of The Bar-Kays die in a plane crash, after a hugely successful European tour and groundbreaking appearance at The Monterey Pop Festival. His posthumous release (Sittin’On) The Dock Of The Bay, became his biggest seller.

Stax continued to have hits through Booker T and the MG’s, and William Bell. Then Isaac Hayes came into his own. His album ‘Hot Buttered Soul’ went triple platinum in 1969, and his soundtrack to the blaxploitation film ‘Shaft’ continued this success

Hits began to flow from the likes of The Staple Singers, Jean Knight, and Mel and Tim. In August 1972, Stax presented ‘Wattstax’ event, which later became known as the ‘Black Woodstock’, and drew a crowd of over 100,000.

Its last real chart success of note was ‘Woman to Woman’ by Shirley Brown in 1974. In a vain attempt to rescue the company, Jim Stewart ended up losing all of his money. Unable to honour its payroll and declared bankrupt, Stax closed on January 1976. By 1977, virtually all of the Stax assets were bought by Fantasy Records of San Francisco.

The Stax Museum of American Soul Music opened on the old site in 2003, and contains thousands of pieces of memorabilia from the label’s heyday.

The Mumper of SE5