musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘Alton Ellis’

Stax Records and the Last Days of Soul

The Memphis-based Stax Records was a powerhouse of a label in the 1960s, ranking only behind the mighty Motown Records in terms of churning out hits on the R&B and Pop charts. But many fans of soul music would argue that Stax was actually miles ahead of Motown in terms of quality, boasting a roster of singers and musicians such as Otis Redding, Booker T & the MG’s, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, the Bar-Kays, Carla Thomas, The Staple Singers, William Bell, Johnnie Taylor, Eddie Floyd, Little Milton, and dozens of others.


But as the decade ended and the 1970s arrived, the hits became fewer and fortunes of Stax declined. However, a compilation of songs on Stax released by the Kent label in 2012, Nobody Wins: Stax Southern Soul 1968-1975, reveals that even though the hits might have dried up, the label was still releasing plenty of great tunes. Because of their legal problems and a dispute with CBS (the label’s very important distributor), by 1975 Stax had a cashflow problem and many of their “name” artists had left the label. According to the liner notes that come with the CD, “To fill the gap in the release schedule members of the back room staff were encouraged to make records.”

Man, what a talented back room staff that must have been! Among those unheralded artists was a guy known as Sir Mack Rice. Rice may not have been a known entity as a recording artist, but he was a very respected songwriter, having penned tunes such as “Mustang Sally” (a monster hit for Wilson Pickett), “Respect Yourself” (which the Staples Singers turned into a hit), and “Cheaper to Keep Her” (one of Johnnie Taylor’s biggest hits). He ended up recording three songs for Stax in late 1974, one of which, “Nobody Wins ‘Til the Game Is Over,” is included on this CD. It’s a gritty, soul shaker with that classic sound you associate with Stax. The liner notes call the song “very much in the Hi (label) sound”, but I actually think the following tune on the CD, “Groovin’ on My Baby’s Love” by Freddie Waters, sounds more like a vintage Hi Records tune, like something in the style of Al Green as produced by Willie Mitchell. Yep, it’s that delicious.

There are plenty of other great songs on this CD, both from “no-name” artists such as Charlene & the Soul Serenaders, Inez Foxx, and Calvin Scott, to veteran acts such as Little Milton, the Soul Children, William Bell, Eddie Floyd, and Mabel John. Another one of my favorite tracks on this collection is “Make a Joyful Noise” by Bettye Crutcher, a sweet soul masterpiece that recalls some of the best “joyful” tunes of the era. Crutcher worked at Stax for many years as a songwriter (in fact, she co-wrote several of the songs on this CD) until she finally got a chance in 1974 to record her own material, resulting in a most pleasing album, Long as You Love Me.  As with all CD compilations from the Kent and Ace team, Nobody Wins: Stax Southern Soul comes with a deluxe booklet that has a history of the label and details about these recordings, along with artist bios and vintage photos. Another “must have” for fans of 60s and 70s southern soul. Meanwhile, here are the other CDs that are keeping me afloat during this rainy month in Bangkok.


Bettye Crutcher – Long As You Love Me

Tedeschi Trucks Band – Made Up Mind

I See Hawks in L.A. – New Kind of Lonely

Grant Hart – The Argument

Kings of Leon – Mechanical Bull


Various Artists – Diablos Del Ritmo: Colombian Melting Pot

Michael Fennelly – Love Can Change Everything

Various Artists – Late Night Tales (selected by Midlake)

Gene Clark & Carla Olson – So Rebellious a Lover

Terry Adams & Steve Ferguson – Louisville Sluggers


Various Artists – The Big E: A Salute to Steel Guitarist Buddy Emmons

Propaganda – Secret Wish (25th Anniversary Edition)

Booker T – Sound the Alarm

Michael Chapman – Trainsong: Guitar Compositions 1967-2010

World Famous Headliners – World Famous Headliners


Alton Ellis – Mr. Soul of Jamaica

Lou Donaldson – Here ‘Tis

Z.Z. Hill – The Brand New Z.Z. Hill

Various Artists – Country Funk 1969-75

Menahan Street Band – Crossing


Benny Soebardja – Lizard Years

Kenny O’Dell – Beautiful People

Bert Jansch – A Rare Conundrum

James Iha – Let it Come Down

Deerhunter – Monomania


Dan Greer – Beale Street Soul Man

Richard X. Heyman – Actual Sighs

Skatalites – Foundation Ska

Francis Dunnery – Let’s Go Do What Happens

O.M.D. – English Electric


Chris Difford – The Last Temptation of Chris

Samuel Purdey – Musically Adrift

Angel City – Face to Face

Pete Donnelly – When You Come Home

Woody Shaw – Stepping Stones: Live at the Village Vanguard


Freddie Roach – Good Move!

Local Natives – Hummingbird

Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion – Wassaic Way

Lee Morgan – Rumproller

Jeb Loy Nichols – Days Are Mighty


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