In January 1972 Stax Records was riding high. After the dark days following the death of Otis Redding in the 1967 plane crash and then the loss of its back catalogue in a complex deal that allowed Atlantic Records to claim ownership of every record the label had recorded up to that point, Stax was very definitely back.
One reason for its incredible resurgence was Isaac Hayes who had taken the music world by storm as the seventies dawned. By 1971 his ‘Theme from Shaft’ had topped the American Hot 100 and been a hit all around the world. But Hayes was far from the only reason that Stax was flourishing. Established stars from its early days had continued to be popular with record buyers at both home and abroad.
Rufus Thomas, Booker t and The MGs, William Bell, Eddie Floyd, Johnnie Taylor and Carla Thomas had hits on the R&B charts as well as the Pop charts. Newer singings had started to prove popular, including, the Staple Singers, The Soul Children, The Dramatics, Jean Knight, The Emotions and Little Milton.
And so it was that 1972’s Stax releases included some big hits including Isaac Hayes aka Black Moses’s, ‘Do Your Thing’, followed shortly after by Frederick Knight’s ‘I’ve Been Lonely so Long’ that made the R&B top 10; The Soul Children’s, ‘Hearsay’ that did likewise.
It wasn’t just soul music that was resonating with record buyers. The blues power of Albert King produced a string of hits in 1972 beginning with ‘Angel of Mercy.’ Even Johnnie Taylor sang the blues with his fabulous, ‘Doing My Own Thing’ that was an R&B top 20 hit.
Meanwhile The Dramatics topped the R&B charts with the atmospheric ‘In The Rain,’ while the Emotions made the top 20 with the funky, loving, ‘My Honey and Me’’. The Staple Singers (above), became Stax’s second R&B chart topper of the year with I’ll Take You There.’ And all this was all before Easter 1972.
These tracks and more don’t even take us to the end of CD1 on the new Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles Vol.3 ten CD set. To carry on listing the hits and the classic recordings from among the 213 tracks would become exhausting.
As author Rob Bowman writes in his extensive (and brilliant) sleeve notes to the box set, “It covers this era of success and excess, when Stax’s stars were shining bright, but the label was on the verge of its dramatic denouement.”
By 1974 things were becoming very difficult from a business standpoint, and by 1976 Stax faced with involuntary bankruptcy and an unsuccessful distribution deal with CBS Records, Sthe label was forced to close its doors. In his liner notes for Vol. 3, the compilation’s co-producer Bill Belmont writes, “Stax’s difficult and inglorious end in no way diminishes its vital contributions to rhythm and blues and soul. Simply put, the Memphis Sound lives.” And indeed it does.
In fact the quality of the music never suffered, and right up until the end the quality of these 45s is outstanding. We thought we would pick 5 tracks from among the remainder of the 10 CDs to whet your appetite.
• Carla Thomas ‘Sugar’ from July 1972. It failed to chart, but it’s a gem.
• Isaac Hayes ‘Rolling Down A Mountainside’ from March 1973. How this record failed to chart is impossible to fathom. It is a soul classic.
• Johnnie Taylor ‘I Believe In You (Believe In Me)’ from June 1973. An R&B No.1 and an outstanding example of Memphis Soul.
• The Soul Children ‘I’ll Be The Other Woman’ from December 1973. Another soul classic that made the top 3 on the R&B charts, beautiful production.
• The Bar-Kays Holy Ghost, November 1975 and the last record on the collection. The Band that had lost most of its members in the Otis Redding plane crash regrouped with new musicians and carried on; they represent the true expression of Stax. Funkification personified!
We just had this in from Bill Belmont, the producer of the box set to explain Isaac Hayes’s lack of chart success.
“Isaac Hayes had performed Shaft for Wattstax—however he had signed a memo in 1972 when he did the sound track for Shaft saying that he wouldn’t records any of those songs for 5 years. As the soundtrack is owned by MGM (now Warner Bros), they objected to it being in the film. They sued. It was only seen and heard at the Premiere. Stax was forced to change the song and they added ‘Rolling Down A Mountainside’. We restored the film in 2002-2003 and since the TV rights to the film are owned by Warner, they agreed to it being reintegrated into all versions of the film. The 1973 single was “the” single from the film. Which is probably why it didn’t chart.”
It’s available to buy in our luxury audio store