"Artist after artist, song after song, Stax gave voice to the hearts and minds of a people too long silenced. And with that voice, Stax brought power to its artists and also to its audience. Stax had become the song of a nation." - page 341
As a collector of popular music for nearly a half century I was pretty familiar with the story of how Stax records was founded in Memphis, Tennessee in the late 1950's by a most unlikely duo. Jim Stewart was a fiddle player in a country swing band who decided to start a record company. His sister Estelle was so taken with the idea that she convinced her husband to mortgage their home in order to help the company that would become Stax get off the ground. What was really kind of bizarre was that Jim Stewart wanted to record black artists. Conventional wisdom said that the odds were stacked against them. But Jim Stewart and his fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants record company proved the skeptics wrong. Over the next two decades Stax would become a major force in American popular music. Robert Gordon has been writing about Memphis music and history for more than three decades. His latest effort "Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion" is a meticulously researched and downright entertaining book. It turns out that there was a whole lot about the history of Stax that I was unaware of. I simply could not put his one down.
In "Respect Yourself" you will learn about all of the major players at Stax, from the management to the extremely talented stable of house musicians to the major stars like Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Carla Thomas and The Staple Singers to name but a few. In addition, Gordon offers up the story behind the story on so many of the label's major hits including "Gee Whiz", "Green Onions", "Who's Makin' Love?", "Theme from `Shaft" and "I'll Take You There". The author also recalls the heartbreaking plane crash that claimed the lives of four members of The Bar-Kays and the label's biggest star Otis Redding on a frigid night in Wisconsin in late 1967. Many thought that Stax would never recover. Then you will meet Al Bell who would eventually become a co-owner of Stax. As you will discover, this was the man who was largely responsible for the spectacular rise and ultimate demise of the company. Under the leadership of Al Bell Stax would enter into a number of questionable deals with other labels in an effort to expand into new markets and to increase distribution. Robert Gordon also spends considerable time profiling other influential people at the label such as Steve Cropper, Johnnie Baylor, David Porter and Booker T. Jones. What Gordon provides for his readers is a comprehensive and no holds barred history of the label. He pulls no punches and shows a willingness to call `em as he sees `em. What would ultimately become of Stax was truly an American tragedy.
As I indicated earlier I could not put "Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion" down. This is at once a well-written, extremely informative and highly entertaining book that would be a perfect choice for music enthusiasts, history buffs and general readers alike. History comes alive in this book and "Respect Yourself" deserves a place in every library in America. Very highly recommended!
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About the reviewer
Paul Tognetti (drifter51)
I guess I would qualify as a frustrated writer. My work requires very little writing and so since 1999 I have been writing reviews on non-fiction books and anthology CD's on amazon.com. I never could … more