(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.
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
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.
Intertwined is a penetrating, horrific description told to Bell of Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination at the Lorraine Hotel in
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
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.
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
You'll be happy to know that Stax has risen yet again in
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!