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.

What’s a Hanging Chad, Anyhow?

There’s no question Republicans are doing all they can to suppress voting: the fewer votes cast, the better Republican chances. But that’s another story. We’re here to talk about your vote actually being counted.

Oregon elections are vote-by-mail. My ballot shows up in my mailbox. I complete it, sign it, put a stamp on the envelope and mail it back. In a day or two, I receive a text message or e-mail confirming my ballot has arrived at the election office. Later I receive another message telling me that my vote has been counted. Prior to repatriating back to Oregon, I voted by mail in California for twenty years.

Seventeen states have formally requested the Department of Homeland Security do risk assessments of their voting systems. With primary-election season here, DHS has so far completed nine. Homeland Security is also providing 33 state and 32 local election offices with cyber-scanning services to identify weaknesses in their networks. Collusion or not, there is no question that Russians infiltrated voting systems in the 2016 election; Russia attempted to hack into the election systems in 21 states. Two of those states — Alabama and Oklahoma — have not yet requested a DHS security review.

We’ve come a long way since the punch-card debacle of the 2000 election. Unfortunately, the “new” electronic voting equipment since then is now old and susceptible to malfunctions and breakdowns, not to mention hacking. Some of the manufacturers of voting machines have gone out of business. Direct-recording-electronic voting machines – DREs – make it easy to cast a ballot, but do not provide a paper record of voter choices. Even slot machines in gambling casinos keep better information.

Hacking is not just breaking into voting-system hardware. Precincts transmitting election data via Internet or even modem are also vulnerable.

Not cheered up enough yet? Click here to read more about it.

“If you’ve seen one redwood tree…

…you’ve seen them all.” Ronald Reagan may or may not have actually said that. It’s a matter of some debate. In case you need one more thing to worry about, time may be running out to see the mammoth old-growth redwood trees.

Before the California Gold Rush, the majestic trees that can live as long as 2,500 years, flourished on 2.2 million acres along the northern California and southern Oregon coast. That’s down to 1.6 million acres, all but seven percent of that is second growth, however. Only 150,000 acres remain in fragmented patches. Almost two centuries of commercial logging, development, road building and agriculture, and yes, fire suppression have drastically reduced the numbers of the massive trees. And the future is not bright for the second growth.

Native Americans regularly burned the forests to clear out undergrowth. Thick bark protected the ancient trees. Modern fire suppression has allowed forest debris and skinny second-growth to surround the old-growth that survived clear-cut logging. The climate change that so many, including the EPA deny, means fiercer and more frequent fires.

But as St. Ron did, in fact, say, “I saw them; there is nothing beautiful about them, just that they are a little higher than the others.”

The Redwood National Park is one of the least crowded of our National Parks.

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.

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