There is no way I could not say a quick piece on this documentary. Last year when Rob Bowman, author of Soulsville, USA, The Stax Records Story came to New Jersey, he hinted about this documentary. I’ve been waiting ever since, and I was definitely not disappointed. I think it was a lot better than the Atlantic Records documentary that PBS put out earlier this year. Despite the over dramatization of Samuel L. Jackson as the narrator, as a whole, I found the depiction of one of, if not the best Soul labels ever, to be fair and accurate (I was not there, but believe me I could feel like I was there). From their humble beginnings of Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, to the assisanation of Dr. Martin Luther King, to the takeover and mass production of music by Al Bell, to Wattstax, and the eventual bankruptcy of the label itself. It was illustrated in a way that made you understand how in a time where the color of your skin mattered all over the country, it didn’t inside the studios of Stax Records. What mattered was the music. There was some great footage: Otis Redding in Europe, Booker T. and the MG’s live early on (and after the Al Bell takeover, complete with Al Jackson playing the drums with a bad ass headband and Booker T. with a leather hat), Isaac Hayes promoting black power and black pride, Mack Rice singing acapella, Rufus Thomas talking about white people, Johnny Taylor killing it with “Who’s Makin Love”, and the ramblings of Jerry Wrexler, which really was only the tip of the iceberg. One still photo that really stands out in my mind, is Al Bell in his office, a blackboard behind him, and notes scrawled over it. The words “Soul Explosion” were at the top. To me, that’s what Stax Records was, a Soul explosion. Even though Bell would be a contributing factor to the eventual downfall of the label, he brought the label to the next level by releasing Lps (not 45s), and promoting Black Power and Pride, not just in the city of Memphis, but throughout the country, wherever Stax was involved; be it movies, a pro basketball team, books, or concert promoting. While Rob Bowman’s book is a great read (I’m still in the middle of it, and is FMF recommended), this documentary is right on point. It’s a great insight of the history of the label told by the people that were living it. See you on Friday. Keep Diggin’!
**Here’s a bonus, a track from the 1966 Stax Compilation “Memphis Gold”