After a fairly late breakfast at Magnolia Cafe, I headed over to the Austin Convention Center to meet my friend Travis McFetridge, who had an afternoon panel. I was torn, because I wanted to see his panel, but I also wanted to attend the Memphis Music panel which Al Kapone was on, so I ended up going to the second one. This panel, held in conjunction with the Martin Shore film Take Me To The River, featured Al Kapone, Boo Mitchell, Cody Dickinson, Booker T. Jones, Frayser Boy, William Bell and Al Bell, and was sponsored by the Memphis Music Foundation. MY homeboy Miscellaneous was not on the panel, but was in the audience. Noted author Robert Gordon was the moderator.
The recent release of Robert Gordon’s superb new book Respect Yourself: The Rise and Fall of Stax Records has unleashed a flurry of renewed interest in Stax Records and its impact on Memphis. On March 6, 2014, a panel discussion was held at the student center at Rhodes College in Memphis, discussing the history and significance of Stax Records on the city of Memphis. Such panels had been held before, but this one was significant, as it featured voices from Stax that have not been heard quite as often- drummer Willie Hall, songwriter Bettye Crutcher, bluesman Don Nix and pianist/songwriter Marvel Thomas. Don Nix spoke forcefully and at length about how Stax was a different sort of place racially compared to Memphis at large until after the assasination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Bettye Crutcher talked about how she became a songwriter, and Willie Hall talked about his early career as a drummer at Stax. Altogether it was a fun and uplifting experience.
Memphis music author Robert Gordon has completed his latest book Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion, which is the third book to deal with the history of Stax Records, after Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music and Rob Bowman’s Soulsville, USA, and Gordon was at the Stax Museum in South Memphis on Saturday afternoon to sign copies of the new book. Memphis’ legendary bluesman (and former Mar-Key) Don Nix was also present, as were around a hundred or so people who came to get their books signed, enjoy food and drink, and hear Gordon read excerpts. An all-Stax concert featuring Don Nix, Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice was being held later down in Clarksdale at Ground Zero.
In some ways, Charles “Packy” Axton was the forgotten man in the Stax Records saga. The son of one of the partners, Estelle Axton, he was a saxophone player in the original Stax band, the Mar-Keys, along with Don Nix and others. Exiled from Stax by his uncle, Jim Stewart (by some accounts due to drugs and/or alcohol), he recorded only a handful of sides before dying tragically in 1974, only in his thirties. But the really hip Light in the Attic Records label out of Seattle has assembled all the material they could find into one cool CD called “Late Late Party”, and the album release party at the Stax Museum was something of an all-star gala, despite the odd time of 4 PM on a Tuesday afternoon. Scott Bomar of the Bo-Keys was there, as well as Andrea Lisle, local Memphis music writer, Robert Gordon, the author of It Came From Memphis, legendary bluesman/photographer Don Nix, who had been Packy’s bandmate in the Mar-Keys, and L. H. White, who was the “L.H.” in L. H. and the Memphis Sounds, who cut four sides under Packy’s direction that would ultimately come out on the Nashville-based Hollywood label. Altogether, it was a good time with good music, and the only sad thing being that Charles “Packy” Axton never saw such acclaim during his lifetime.