Monday, May 07, 2007

Jim Stewart STAX Records Legend

Two former STAX guys reunite and share smiles in Memphis in 2003. Jim Stewart (R) co-founder of STAX Records and former label exec Phillip Rauls (L) pose for a photograph at Stewart's residence. More about this visit and Stewart's legacy later in this posting.

It wasn't too long ago when I returned to Memphis to attend the Grand Opening of the STAX Museum of American Soul Music and the STAX Music Academy. The occasion was a week's long celebration of events with various functions taking place practically every day and night. I didn't quite know what to expect being so far-removed from Soulsville USA and transplanted years ago in the Pacific Northwest. When you stop and think about the amount of time that has elapsed since my involvement with the company, the doors of STAX Records has been closed since 1976 and who knows how many artists and fellow employees are still among us. But my suspense would soon be lifted as the next few days would reveal.

As my story begins, the long flight from Seattle darn-near took all day. However, upon my arrival in Memphis, I was ready to pull-out my favorite STAX 45 RPM's and party with my former colleagues. On my first night I couldn't resist driving past the old STAX facilities on McLemore Avenue to view the changes. That's when I noticed a flurry of activities in-and-around the new building and stopped to investigate. Surprisingly, the Museum Souvenir Shop was open for business. I entered the facilities only to come face-to-face with old friend and associate, the legendary Steve Cropper. What a beautiful sight for my sore eyes. I had no idea if he was committed to the week long event. But there he was...Blues Brother pony tail and all. After a brief reunion of bear-hugs and sharp digs at each other's expanded waist lines, I felt right at home in the work place of my former employer. Visiting with Cropper on my first day was well worth the long journey.

Phillip Rauls and Steve Cropper reconnect for the first time since 1986.

The following evening Issac Hayes hosted a private party at his new restaurant that was attended by many celebrities and politicians. Hayes made a grand appearance midway through the party supported by the blinding effects of hundreds of flash bulbs. Plus the Mayor of Memphis were there, David Porter showed up, and old friend Marvell Thomas was there, plus original member of The Bar-Kays, James Alexander attended (pictured below). Who knew what surprises were ahead. And this was only day two.

James Alexander of The Bar-Kays and Phillip Rauls share a moment for the cameras.

The following week was action-packed with events that included the exclusive premier of a new film on producer Tom Dowd which included interviews with Jim Stewart and Steve Cropper. Plus there was an open panel discussion in the conference room at the STAX Academy that included noted author Peter Guralnick. Next came a tour of the STAX Museum that literally forced tears to my eyes. Then came my favorite of all events, the impromptu visits with former colleagues; Eddie Floyd, Wayne Jackson, Bettye Crutcher, William Bell, Deanie Parker, Duck Dunn, Alex Chilton, Jody Stephens, Don Nix, Larry Raspberry, Bobby Manuel, Joe Shamwell, Larry Nix and Ardent's John Fry and John King. Oh, did I mention the fantastic performance of a once-in-a-lifetime concert celebrating the grand opening of the Stax Museum?

During my week while attending the grand opening of the STAX Museum, I was filled with heartfelt memories from the 60's and 70's. Those were the tireless days of lobbying media personnel and trying to convince disk jockeys and journalist to give equal consideration to a new STAX artist. Equal consideration was a bold term being used when a promotion person was anxious to expose the Black artists that he represented. The segregated Top Forty Music system wasn't so friendly to the Black artist's attempt to reach mass-appeal. Especially if the record didn't transmit those squeaky clean images that Pop Radio managers demanded. Even the FCC guidelines recommended avoiding records that created controversy. Plus, most newspaper and magazine subscribers, as well as their advertisers, were predominately white. Under those circumstances, a marketing person was considered lucky to obtain a favorable review or playlist addition to artists associated with that baggage. Which brings to mind, if current marketeers think it's tough to conquer mass appeal nowadays in the 21st Century, try turning back the clock five decades and approaching the media with a Stax Record. Ever had someone lower their nose and cross their arms in disgust while you were lobbying for their decision? But today's journalist and newscasters aren't interested in those formative days involving industry protocol. Prove me wrong, but it seems they're not as passionate about the nuts-and-bolts of industry mechanics and don't want to cover those battles of engagement. Seems like they just want to succumb to the simple game of the glorification of artists fanfare. That's like assuming the general public is naive and believes in the fantasy of overnight successes. My question is; Why brush aside the details of business etiquette from that era. Recollections from our past are vital elements towards our future. It's like...forget about arduous chronicles from The Battle of The Bulge, just tell us who won the war.

Jim Stewart is one of the few remaining pioneers from that distinctive era. His Stax Records enabled modern music to promote equal rights for all artists. Industry figures like Jim Stewart are a vanishing breed with many of them passing in recent years. Tom Dowd, Arif Mardin and most recently, Ahmet Ertegun, have all departed the living-and now joined the spirit world in Rock & Soul Heaven.

In closing, when I visited Jim Stewart at his residence during that week of the grand opening of the STAX Museum, he simply chose not to attend the function. Many misinterpreted this as a gesture of his displeasure from the original STAX closing and regarded it as bitterness. Not so quick oh ye who have failed to cover those battles of engagement. The truth is, nowadays, Jim Stewart has retired from public life and doesn't make personal appearances. Atlantic's Jerry Wexler's situation is identical whereas he doesn't attend any functions that require traveling. But here's where the story ends; During the week of the STAX Grand Opening of The Museum, while all the former STAX artists, the executive staff and former employees were taking bows, posing for the cameras and giving interviews to the national and foreign press, only former writer/artist Bettye Crutcher and myself took the time to come and visit with Jim Stewart during this historical week.

Reunion photographs by David Gingold

Next posting: Stax Records Pop Music Expansion


Blogger David Fleischman said...

Great article Phiilp. I just wish that Jim would allow himself to receive all the awards, accolades, and honors he so richly deserves.

7:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Phillip.

You never cease to amaze me…the information that you collect and share. Thanks so much. Come to Memphis for the Stax Records 50th anniversary celebration at the Orpheum, June 22nd. I’ll send you a media release about the upcoming event. I hope that you are well.


4:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Phillip,

Excellent article about the Stax reunion in Memphis! Do you know how I can get a DVD of the Tom Dowd special that was on PBS awhile back? I'd also like to find a DVD of last week's special on Ahmet.


4:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Phil ,
This is great. You are well on you way with the material to write your book. "M"

4:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Phillip,
I sent the following to Joel Selvin tonight. Selvin writes really
great music reviews for the San Francisco Chronicle and I thought he
might enjoy reading your ever increasing blog. Great story on the
Stax reunion, BTW.


6:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this Phillip. A sincere tribute to Jim.


6:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update, Phillip. I found a cassette tape Jimmy Griffin sent me for Christmas ’97 when I was living in D.C. packed away with some other hidden treasures. I cried until I couldn’t breath listening to it. It’s so wonderful for you to make an effort to keep us together no matter where we are now. What a time we had!


6:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


We will be forever grateful for what he did.

How I would have loved to meet him.

Thanks again Phillip.


6:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story about the reunion my brother, especially noted; only
you and one other person took time to visit Jim...sad.

All the best. DW

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great job on the Stax story. Did you get to see the PBS special on Ahmet Ertegun? Another program well done. Stax and Atlantic had some of my most favorite artists.


7:48 PM  
Blogger Jon said...

Phillip..Great story..I do remember FM 100 in Memphis playing a lot of Stax music, when nobody else wanted too...

10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Phillip,

Thanks very much for the "link". I really enjoyed it!!
I was also at the opening of the Stax museum. It's a pity that I missed you.
This summer I will visit the USA again and will make a trip to Las Vegas, Utah and Arizona. To end this trip we will visit my friends in Memphis and wil stay there 6days.
One of my great wishes is to meet Jim Stewart to talk about early studio equipment before this information will be lost forever and also about matrix numbers.

8:38 AM  
Anonymous MIke said...

Hello Phillip. I recently acquired 2 cancelled STAX payroll checks; one to William Bell written on 3-26-69 and one to Isaac Hayes written in 1970. THese were signed by the artists on back. THe checks were co-signed by LInda Andrews and I am not certian of the other signature. It looks lke JIm Stewart, but may be Jim Stevens. Do you have any info on the corporate staff? I would like to display these properly and would like to asceratin what they were i payment for and verify the secondary signature. THanks....Mike

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Mike for your comments. I am familiar with all parties mentioned. Please contact me off line and we can discuss.

5:02 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Hi Mr Phillips My name is Rachel Simon and my grandfather was a music publisher who worked with Mr Stewart on several songs including Green Onions, Last Night, and Gee Whiz! I have seveeral awards he was given but he died early at 52 years old in 1965 at the beginning of h!is career which Mr Stewart attended and there is still some information we dont know and I was wondering if you know of a way to contact Mr Stewart or a way of sending him a messge? Any info would be amazing! Thanks Rachel

8:15 PM  
Anonymous tracye harris said...

Hello. My name is Tracye Byler Harris. My father, Fred, was one of Jim Stewart's original partners and the DJ/artist who performed "Blue Roses" on the first release of Satellite Records. He passed away about 10 years ago. My parents divorced when I was 2 and even though I saw my father up util I was 20 I never really knew him. He didn't talk about his past and it was only recently that I found out his relationship with KWEM and Jim Stewart. I have no idea if you still read these comments but if you do, please contact me. I want to ask you a few questions.

6:22 AM  

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