Wednesday, October 7, 2009


(As an official baby boomer, I find myself on life’s senior frontier in a fight to document terrific memories of the Boomer generation, so that others may know what we are starting to forget).

EPISODE: Respect Yourself, Stax Records

    Yeah, I know. Nextflix probably issued a warrant for my arrest under the “hogging-the-monthly-movie too long” law. But my reasons for adding this particular DVD to the Boomer List of Must-See has more to do with its timing and place among a few historic events that impacted both black and white America.
    Respect Yourself: the Stax Records Story is an eye-opening 2007 documentary with a sub-text of southern roots that any music lover of rock, R&B, soul, pop, jazz and yes, gospel, would enjoy.
    The Stax story covers 1959 to 1972, also considered the formative years for us boomers. It was a time when highly charged national events - including the civil rights movement - brought change. Dramatic shifts in music and the recording industry were already in play. The 45rpm and lighter vinyl LP had successfully replaced clunky 78s, the “British Invasion” led by Beatles and Stones were attacking the hearts and minds of our young, and radio was locking into repetitious play of new sounds.
    In Memphis, southern white co-founders, Jim Stewart and his sister, Estelle Axton, with no knowledge of the music business, opened a recording studio on East McLemore Avenue, a predominantly black section of town. “We never looked at color,” says Estelle. “We looked at people and talent.”
    During that time, popularity of Black music was actually growing beyond American borders like unprocessed oil below the earth’s crust, punching its way through. While this industry-labeled "rhythm & blues" music was filling international airwaves, concerts and dance halls, two new companies emerged on the horizon and struck black gold. One was Motown, spawned in Detroit and gushing with pop-appeal sound presented by well-coiffed talent.
    Stax was the other, literally going in a different direction and anchored by southern roots of gospel, blues and R&B. The combined sound that identified this harder edged feel was crafted inside Stax by a young, four-person studio band called “Booker T and the MG’s.”
    Their formula relied on a dose of amp’d up heavy bass lines and banging horns. Best described by the late entertainer, Rufus Thomas, “Motown had the sweet, Stax had the funk!”
    Boomers who heard and danced to the music knew what Thomas was talking about and could easily point to the Stax distinctiveness. 
    The documentary gives viewers a chance to peer through history and see the players in action –artists, musicians, owners and the betrayers – all hard at work, working.
    Central to the story is Al Bell, former disc jockey/promoter who came to Stax with aggressive ideas and business acumen needed to market the product. Bell took Stax from a little company to a big one and as the story reveals, pulled it back a couple of times from the brink. While his genius, creativity and savvy are well described, propelling the company to success eventually cost Bell (who was named in a bogus bank fraud investigation) his job and led to the dismantling of the company. Bell was later exonerated of any wrong-doing.
    Intertwined is a penetrating, horrific description told to Bell of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis. The significance of the hotel to the Stax artists is best described by a certain bald-headed writer turned performer.
    Worth viewing is Isaac Hayes decision to create his innovative “Hot, Buttered, Soul” album. Not included in the documentary is how the album completely changed the “two-minute, fifty-second” rule radio programmers adhered to when giving records airplay.
    I was on radio in Washington, DC pulling the midnight shift and played the cut of Hayes crooning a stretched out version of Walk On By. Two minutes into the song, calls streamed in to the station by listeners demanding all kinds of information and requests to play it again. The phone lines had to be shut down. This went on for weeks until radio stations across the country relented and began playing the song during normal listening periods.
    Captured on film are performances by Hayes, Sam & Dave, the Staple Singers and several more headliners. Included are clips of head ‘n body shaking, Johnny Taylor’s sex-a-fied Who’s Making Love to Your Old Lady and Hayes’ high-end Oscar-winning movie score, Shaft. Throughout are glimpses of Stax Records most revered, yet short-lived performer, Otis Redding.
    A piece of advice: upload the DVD, but go directly to “Stax All-Star Reunion Rehearsal” first, for a real insider’s treat. Enter the band – Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn and artists Eddie Floyd, William Bell and Hayes with some quick, backstage interchange. “Now, all we need is Otis.”
    In the middle of their conversation, Cropper on lead guitar, starts to play. No countdown, no get ready… nothing and William Bell, circa 1961 belts out, “In the beginning…” and I heard someone holler, damn! It was me.
    For that moment, the shock of hearing You Don’t Miss Your Water, till the Well Runs Dry flashed me back to those formative years - my parents, my partying, my praying and my friends.
    That was a moment only a Boomer could feel (and this was a doggone rehearsal). That’s power to the senses from powerfully made music. That’s what STAX was all about.
    While music fans are familiar with the Motown story, this documentary is rich in storytelling from another angle and locking into history from a lesser experienced southern perspective. The conditions for black people - were what they were, yet Stax thrived for quite a few bumpy years. 
    There’s no Hollywood ending. The story of Stax Records demise is downright chilling and Bell described it as if “somebody tried to wipe all of that (accomplishments) off the face of the Earth.”
    Speaking of Al Bell, his incredible career track beyond this period included a stint as president of Motown Records. He remains an imposing figure in the annals of American music.
    In a recent New York Times article, “Out of Exile, Back in Soulsville,” reporter Deborah Sontag brings us up to date on Bell, who was recently appointed chairman of the Memphis Music Foundation. In addition, you’ll find him on the Internet with multi-media “blasts-from-the-past” collateral you’ll want to explore. I had to fight the temptation to reveal more of the story in this blog. As an observer to the filmmaker’s perspective on history, you ride with his view.
    You'll be happy to know that Stax has risen yet again in Memphis and it’s all good. For a taste, visit and turn up your speakers.
    Note to Netflix: I just dumped the movie in the mailbox after viewing it for the fourth time.

From Tom M. Jones
All Things Boomer!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Time to Turn Down the Volume

The subject is noise pollution: is anybody listening? We're in "stage-1 alert" for bad noises that are starting to consume the area. This is big and I, for one, am firing the first shot for establishing awareness of this problem and seeking solutions beginning at the grass-root level.
First, in no way can I cover the full width and breadth of this issue in one column. Second, enough has been written about the dangers to humans, wildlife and the environment that some serious federal and state laws are in place to protect us from the evils of loud.
But thanks to some cunning politicians in D.C., the average citizen is unable to make sense of what the laws mean.
There's a ton of research on noise pollution from work environment issues to the effects of urban noise pollution on blood pressure of kids and, would you believe, the impact on whales.
But I define it like I define wind; you know it's there whether you see it or not.
My concern is that, with such growth in the central North Carolina region, we're generating increased levels of noise that are becoming more than noticeable. If we make people aware of the pollution now, we may have a chance to reduce it.
I found out that the dominant form of noise pollution comes from transportation sources, principally motor vehicles. But now you have to ask the question, "does this also include noise from inside the vehicle, too?" Practically every driver has experienced the vehicle that has pulled up beside or behind you and, even with your windows up, rattles your cage with man-made thunder.
In my quiet, almost serene neighborhood, there is some kid in his SUV who drives by daily with a near heart-stopping set of pounding subwoofers that penetrate the walls of my house as well as other homes. He lives one block over and the sound continues until he turns off the engine. (Harrumph - wait until he reaches the age of 40 and his inner-ear buzz begins.)
For those unfamiliar with the term "subwoofer" it refers to a loudspeaker that produces low-bass frequencies and can be found at concert halls, in theaters, automobiles and is common place among home audio systems. Oh, I've got one in the house too, a 500-watt cherry cabinet beauty I call 'Bubba." Given enough juice, it can actually shake out the windows in my family room when playing an action-oriented DVD.
But I've learned the hard way that I don't have to crank it up so high, especially when my wife is yelling at the top of her lungs to turn it down. And she's standing at the other end of the room.
Therefore, I'm thinking the only way to grapple with this issue is to initiate a grass-roots campaign called "Lower da Noise, Lower da Funk." I'm applying for Stimulus Funds to make up some flyers, T-shirts and bumper stickers with an "ear," a big red V and an arrow pointing south. That ought to attract some attention. But I'll need help from you good citizens, too.
I believe we can all do a great community service by each of us drafting a list of our top 10 noise pollutants. Then start discussions on ideas to reduce noise levels so that we can save our environment and our hearing.
My list isn't totally practical, but one note: Disco was officially removed from my list 25 years ago.
Hey (shouting), anybody know a good ear doctor?

1. College Stadiums with more than 30,000 attending.
2. People in public who shout on their cell phones or blue tooth.
3. That kid with the subwoofer.
4. Hip-Hop Soundtracks that make your car shake.
5. Any song by KISS.
6. Opening of any "Star Wars" movie.
7. Rush-Hour Traffic on I-40, I-85, I-95, the Beltline, etc.
8. Women who scream when their girlfriends get engaged.
9. My Wife when the Redskins or Panthers fumble.
10. My Wife when the Redskins or Panthers score a touchdown.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Infamous Huts Whoa

What an intro - I feel like I'm broadcasting again, this time from my fingertips. Thanks for stopping by to read and waste time with me. Oh, if you're trying to figure out what the heck is "infamous huts", you'll never get a clue unless I try and explain the meaning of such a rebellious off-axis, title.

As a refashooned writer of sorts, I've been looking for a proper, distilled, but out-of-the-box outlet to express a long list of personal issues that I've carried over a formidable career in and around broadcasting, advertising, marketing, higher education, commercial production and public service. Yep, I'm looking to "brand" a better voice for saying some things that a lot of conservative and liberal yokels are saying and getting big money to honk their own horns!

Lucky for me, I found out that humor was a more appealing and dynamic way to do that. Believe me when I was in broadcasting, I was too focused and maybe even aggressive about how I approached the business. Both as a producer and later as a leader of men and women. I never really wanted to do that, but leadership is sometimes thrust upon you. In my case, I had big shoulders and carried the ball... a couple of times down the field, so to speak. As it became more of a "pain in the crotch," I sincerely longed for going back to the creative theater. That occurred in New York when I got out of that big-nonsense industry pressure cooker known as commerical radio and jump with pleasure into a hotter flame called advertising.

My natural proclivity to laugh and make others laugh as a form of communication emerged. Here I was selling "dancing hams" for the Polish, casting the Nestle's bunny in Hollwood, running over to Rockefeller Plaza twice a week with several new NBC-TV promos I produced, on the road with Pabst Brewing, and in between trips from the big agency, picking up a CLIO for producing NY Times campaign (that is with me and Don Thomas, of course). While there are a ton of radio and TV commercials I've written and produced, the one thing I learned was that I can talk to people -- and they listen! For that I thank my uber-mentor, the late R. Billy Davis.

Thanks to this remarkable man, I learned about branding before it became a chic marketing metaphor. Billy plucked the heartstrings of America's emotions with Coca Cola's "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" campaign, had the incredible voices singing "Miller Beer", and the likes of Patti Austin, Luther Vandross, Ashford & Simpson and tons of other stars I can't think of right now, rotating through the studios to sing America's favorite products. It was his technique that sparked decades of singing, dancing and just feeling good - about commercials in :60 seconds. I know, I'm one of his disciples. There's a whole lot more to know about this guy, but that's not what the first blog is about. Nah!

"Infamous Huts" refers to a couple of new characters of mine who will be performing in another medium - hopefully in cyberspace, too - and will have a lot to say from both sides of the consiousness table. Their setting is probably going to be the coolist, and I guarantee once you learn a little about these guys, you'll want to learn a lot with every conversation they have. I've waited a few years to hone this thing, primarily so it won't get stolen and also because I believe with their voices in our back-biting, sometimes rude society, they can make you T-H-I-N-K. Something our kids are a little short on. Maybe take some of the cloudiness out of right and wrong. And do a better job of pointing the finger at the problem. Oooohh! sends a chill, don't it!

Don't want to reveal too much more right now. I've got to start building the corral (that's another metaphor) to put 'em in and make them palatible to the public. Get ready in a couple of months for the role out.

Thas muh plan, gov'nor!

Blog one is done.

Warhorse reporting.