The Stax Museum

1. It’s a fake.

It’s in the right location, but the building is new, they tore down the theatre Stax was originally located in. History gets no respect in the U.S. We think young and new is best, and then, when the old is gone, it’s too late.

2. It was a theatre.

Jim Stewart originally set up shop in a garage. Then his sister, Estelle Axton, mortgaged her house in order to rent and refurbish the theatre.

3. They barely renovated.

The candy counter became a record store. Where Steve Cropper eventually worked and the community hung out. Today the mainstream music business has a closed door policy, keeping everybody young and new out, just like the rest of the country, where the rich leave the rest of us behind. The big music business emulates the Wall Street titans, cares more about money than music, and if you don’t know this, you don’t know them. And this will be the death of them. Because when you leave the little people out, they find a way to do it for themselves, especially today, when the tools of creation and distribution are cheap and are at people’s fingertips.

Yes, the Stax studio had the sloping floor of a movie theatre, and the high ceilings too. Sure, burlap was stapled to the walls, but very little else was done, and all the work was done by the proprietors, no contractors were involved. You don’t need the right space to make music, just a space. And like the music itself, happy accidents result in greatness. The room had a particular sound, intrinsic to the records made there, as a result.

4. Money

Jim Stewart did not complain that no big corporation, no fat cat would give him money. It’s only recently that the deep pockets of corporations have provided money for music. Now we’re retreating to the old ways, when everybody was doing it for themselves, on a hope and a dream. You can have hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment and create a stiff or just GarageBand and a great song and create a hit. If you think it takes money to make it, you know nothing.

5. Music Education

THEY ALL LEARNED IN SCHOOL! All those great Stax musicians, Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper. As did Adele. Sure, many can learn by themselves but think of the cultural loss we endure because there’s no music in the schools.

6. Practice

They didn’t pick up their instruments at age sixteen and say they wanted to be famous. They played for years before you ever heard their music, decades. Not because they wanted to be rich and famous, but because they loved to PLAY!

7. Lifestyle

They were working all the time, Booker T. & the M.G.’s were in the studio sixteen hours a day. All this lifestyle crap, going to Vegas and the clubs, that’s a very recent thing. Those are the trappings, they’ve got nothing to do with music.

8. Rufus Thomas

Was almost fifty when he finally hit it big. Music has no age limits.

9. They were bad businessmen.

Stax lost its masters to Atlantic. The details of their subsequent deal with Clive Davis was not codified, so when he was gone, Stax floundered. The history of music is littered with bad business deals. It doesn’t have to be this way, but if you put business first, you’re probably a lousy musician.

10. It’s about relationships.

Jerry Wexler and Clive helped Stax immensely. And Packy Axton went to high school with Steve Cropper.

11. Steve Cropper

He not only played, he wrote. His name is on ""(Sittin" On) The Dock Of The Bay" and "Knock On Wood" and "In The Midnight Hour".

The greats are great for a reason. They just don’t declare they’ve arrived, they do the work.

12. David Porter

Bagged groceries across the street and begged for a job. Got one and eventually co-wrote "Soul Man", "B-A-B-Y" and "Hold On, I’m Comin’".

13. "Hold On, I’m Comin’"

Isaac Hayes was at the organ, David Porter was in the bathroom, it was late at night, they were writing a song, Isaac was impatient, he implored Porter to come back into the studio. Porter yelled out HOLD ON, I’M COMIN’!

And then Porter immediately came out of the loo with his pants around his ankles, screaming THAT’S IT!

14. The Backstory

The songs don’t write themselves, the records don’t make themselves. Near the end of the museum, just before you enter the recreated studio, there’s an endless loop of everyone testifying how the songs were written, how they came to be. Including the aforementioned "(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay" and "Hold On I’m Comin’" to "Knock On Wood" and "Soul Man" and more!

15. Respect

And just before this television monitor, there’s an old beat-up tape recorder. Just one track. Upon which was cut "Respect". The Otis Redding original. I stared and tingled.

P.S. Race

They felt no color lines. Ironically, they hung out a lot at the Lorraine Motel, where the races could mix comfortably. But after Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot there, the atmosphere was never the same, racial tension escalated, it hurt the sense of musical collaboration and freedom in Memphis.

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