The Mar-Keys entered Stax Records folklore early, as the storied label’s first house band, as well as being the team of A-list players who had a soul and crossover pop smash in 1961 with the instrumental “Last Night.” But the group had to wait from one end of the 1960s to the other for their one and only appearance on Billboard’s R&B album bestsellers, when Damifiknow! entered Best Selling Rhythm & Blues LPs in the issue dated July 12, 1969.
The close correlation in line-up and musicianship between the Mar-Keys and labelmates Booker T. and the MGs was such that the latter group was taking priority in Stax marketing by the mid-1960s. The name of the Mar-Keys disappeared from both pop and soul singles lists after 1966’s “Philly Dog.” In 1967, the two groups shared a Stax release in the form of the live LP Back To Back, which reached No.98 on the all-genre album chart, but missed out on specific R&B recognition.
But even if the Mar-Keys were only an occasional recording presence in their latter years, the late 1960s saw them gathering in a powerful six-man aggregation that cut the Damifiknow! long player. Previewed by the funky single “Double Or Nothing” in March 1969, backed by their version of Eddie Floyd’s Stax staple “Knock On Wood,” the LP featured the formidable line-up of Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Booker T. Jones, Al Jackson (collectively better known, of course, as Booker T. and the MGs) with mighty ammunition from Andrew Love and Wayne Jackson, soon to become the Memphis Horns.
The LP was advertised in a late May trade ad bought by Stax to promote its current releases. They included titles by Johnnie Taylor, Rufus Thomas, William Bell, Albert King, and, indeed, the new one by Booker T. and the MGs under their own name, The Booker T. Set. The Damifiknow album was also prominently pushed at the first Stax/Volt sales convention, held at the Rivermont Hotel in Memphis in mid-May, 1969.
The album included some other fine late 60s soul originals, including Jackson and Cropper’s “Coffee Cup” and Jackson and Love’s equally horn-laden, rock-tinged “Black.” Cropper, Love, and Jackson were joined at the composers’ table by Stax resident Isaac Hayes for the percussive, swinging “One With Sugar.” The headshaking “Jive Man” was equally infectious.
The record also featured the Mar-Keys’ versions of such indelible soul favorites as Aretha Franklin’s “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man” and Sir Mack Rice’s composition immortalized by Wilson Pickett, “Mustang Sally.” A take on John Sebastian’s Lovin’ Spoonful hit “Daydream” was a step into a poppier sound, and Booker T.’s nimble organ sound led the ensemble into the closing “Heads or Tails.”
Damifiknow! progressed only one rung from its R&B chart entry to peak at No.34 in a five-week run. But it remains a rewarding listen in the history of southern soul, as it grew ever more funky in the hands of some stellar players.