The Stax Legacy

The active life of Stax Records was short, about a decade. The impact of Stax Records lives on. James Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton changed their small country-music-oriented Satellite Records to Stax (Stewart + Axton = STAX) and set up shop in an old Memphis movie theatre in 1961. The label became the sweaty, soul-drenched counterbalance to the slick, choreographed music coming out of Motown’s “Hitsville U.S.A.” Stax called its recording studio “Soulsville U.S.A.” Stax introduced the world to Rufus and Carla Thomas, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Albert King, Sam & Dave and many others. The house band, Booker T. & the MG’s, backed up most Stax artists and also produced hits of their own.

The label’s biggest star, Otis Redding, died in a plane crash in 1967, along with several Stax musicians. Disadvantageous distribution arrangements with Atlantic Records and later CBS brought Stax to the financial brink. By the mid-seventies, Stax was insolvent and ceased operations. Its headquarter building was eventually demolished. Fantasy Records acquired the bankrupt Stax and its post-1968 library – Atlantic owned most of the older recordings – and used the label for re-issues, no new music. Concord Records bought Fantasy in 2004 and reactivated the name. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats and Ben Harper are currently on the Stax label.

A rebuilt “Soulsville U.S.A.” is now the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. On the same block is the Stax Music Academy. The Academy offers after-school and summer music programs for grades six through twelve. Their various ensembles – Jazz, rhythm & blues, funk, and contemporary jazz – perform around the area, and the country. They also operate the Soulsville Charter School offering a college-prep curriculum with a strong music program.

Postcards from JazzFest

New Orleans is a majority non-white city. At the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, most of the workers were African-American. The majority of the performers were black, although most of the closing main-stage artists were not: Sting, Rod Stewart (filling in for Aretha Franklin, who cancelled) and Jimmy Buffet the first weekend; Lionel Richie, Beck, Aerosmith & Trombone Shorty the second.) The crowd was almost exclusively white. I don’t get it.

The Batiste Family – Father and Sons

Charles Lloyd & the Marvels with Lucinda Williams

Sunday church services

Can you find Rod Stewart in this photograph?

Just a few of the necessaries


The Other Beignet place

Rita Mae’s – better food and more attentive service than most of the fancy eating places. Hand-lettered sign: “DO NOT USE SUGAR PACKETS TO LEVEL THE TABLES”

Fifty Years Ago

That notorious decade, the Sixties, began January 20, 1961 with the inauguration of John F. Kennedy; or November 22, 1963, when he was shot to death in Dallas; or February 9, 1964 when the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan’s Sunday show. (On Monday morning, February 10, millions of teenage boys combed their hair down over their foreheads, precipitating a major disciplinary crisis in the nation’s high schools. Before the week was over, thousands of them had started rock ‘n’ roll bands.) The British Invasion morphed into the Age of Aquarius and the sixties promised a youth revolution.

And then came 1968. From the New Yorker:

On December 6th, less than a month after [Trump’s] election, Vice-President Joe Biden, who was in New York to receive the Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Award, for his decades of public service, used the occasion to urge Americans not to despair. “I remind people, ’68 was really a bad year,” he said, and “America didn’t break.” He added, “It’s as bad now, but I’m hopeful.” And bad it was. The man for whom Biden’s award was named was assassinated in 1968. So was Martin Luther King, Jr. Riots erupted in more than a hundred cities, and violence broke out at the Democratic National Convention, in Chicago. The year closed with the hairbreadth victory of a law-and-order Presidential nominee whose Southern strategy of racial politicking remade the electoral map. Whatever innocence had survived the tumult of the five years since the murder of John F. Kennedy was gone.

If 1968 hadn’t mortally wounded the sixties, the 1969 free concert at Altamont Raceway, southeast of Oakland, killed it for sure. Wanting to stay relevant with their fan base in changing times, the Rolling Stones decided a free concert would improve their “bad-boys” image. After all, the Grateful Dead were famous for, among other things, putting on free shows. Someone had the bright idea of hiring the Hell’s Angels for security. Payment was $500 worth of beer. After all, it had worked for the Grateful Dead. And since the publication of “Gonzo” journalist Hunter Thompson’s Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs in 1966, the Angels had become cool.

The Woodstock Music Festival earlier that year was already legendary because 400,000 people came together on a muddy field and nobody was killed. Proof that this generation’s peace and love was winning. Altamont matched Woodstock for traffic gridlock, but came up short in peace and love. The Hell’s Angels beat and stabbed to death an eighteen-year-old kid in front of the stage while the Stones performed.

The sixties were not just over, they were dead.

And today, I-580 over the Altamont Pass is as miserable piece of highway as one can travel.

Mississippi Goddam(?)

The server at Lou’s Full Serv Restaurant told us he had moved to Jackson Mississippi just a few weeks ago. From Seattle. He said Jackson looked like a city “on the cusp.” And he might be able to buy a home there. (Median home price in Seattle recently rose above $800,000.) But Jackson on the cusp? Well, he might be right.

Things are different in the Deep South. You might be accustomed to seeing a Starbucks on every other corner. In the South it will be a Waffle House. Or a Dollar General store.

Southern drivers apparently have trouble dealing with cold weather. Approaching every bridge, overpass, viaduct is posted a yellow-diamond sign warning “Bridge Ices Before Road” or a variation of that text. Every bridge, because if a bridge did not, presumably a motorist driving during freezing weather would think, “Don’t worry Sadie, this here bridge won’t be icy.”

Condom machines in rest rooms carry the helpful information that if used properly, the product can reduce the chances of STDs or AIDS, but the only sure prevention is celibacy before marriage and fidelity afterwards.

Continue reading Mississippi Goddam(?)

Flying United

Many years ago, trying to get home from a business conference somewhere, I missed my United Airlines connecting flight in Denver because of inclement weather. (Snow in Denver – who’da guessed?) A nice United person helped me get re-booked. She also pointed to a nearby counter telling me I could go there and receive a voucher for some food because of the delay. I patiently waited in line. When my turn came, the United Airlines representative spoke to me as if I was a schoolboy disrupting class, telling me they had no control over the weather and were not required to give me anything. When I explained the person who re-booked my flight sent me over, she emphatically repeated they weren’t going to feed me and I should not have expected they would. That was my last flight on United Airlines; I have been able to avoid their friendly skies since that experience.

You may have seen United Airlines in the news recently when they dragged a passenger off a plane after he refused to give up his seat for an airline employee. (Read here why travel writer Joe Brancatelli consistently calls United the “Worst Airline Ever.”) Or the demise of a French Bulldog whose owners were ordered by a flight attendant to be put in an overhead bin. (But don’t get me started about animals on airplanes.)

The trade group Airlines for America and the Trump administration are now doing their best to roll back regulations that made air travel a little less unpleasant, such as:

  • Prohibiting airlines keeping passengers on the plane sitting for hours on the tarmac without food, water or access to rest rooms
  • Quoted fares must disclose additional fees and taxes
  • A refund without penalty if a reservation is canceled within 24 hours
  • et cetera

According to United, “Many of the regulations/initiatives adopted or issued at the end of the previous administration are extremely costly, will be unduly burdensome on the airline industry, and should be repealed or permanently terminated.”

Happy flying.