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Sweet Soul Music

November is shaping up as a busy month at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

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On Friday, November 18th, author Peter Guralnick, who depicted the trials and travails of Stax in his book Sweet Soul Music before documenting the life of Elvis Presley in Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love, will be signing copies of his latest book, Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, at the museum.

While Cooke never recorded at Stax, his singing style nevertheless made a tremendous impression on those who did -- in particular Isaac Hayes, who recalls making a pilgrimage to a local hospital to get a glimpse of the Clarksdale, Mississippi-born pop star in the late 1950s.

"It was after he got into a car wreck in Arkansas," Hayes says, "and we snuck up the fire escape to see him. He had a thermometer in his mouth, and when the nurse saw us, she told us to beat it. I was poor as dirt, singing with the Teen Tones, and that was the closest I'd ever gotten to someone who really made it as an entertainer."

On Sunday, November 20th, a new exhibit of personal histories from the museum's "Soulsville" neighborhood will open. The project will include personal histories and photographs documenting the rise, fall, and redevelopment of the South Memphis neighborhood that surrounds the former recording studio.

Groundwork began last August, when Free River Press director Robert Wolf conducted a four-day workshop at the museum. Participants wrote their life stories, shared their memories, and discussed their hopes for the future of the neighborhood. Histories of Boss Ugly Bob's record shop, Jones' Big Star grocery store, Sister's Café, and nightspots like the House of Payne and the Blue Light anchor the exhibit; the essays will also be edited into a book scheduled to be published by Free River Press, museum publicist (and Flyer columnist) Tim Sampson says.

And on Monday, November 28th, blue-eyed soul singer Linda Lyndell -- who belted out the unforgettable "What a Man" for Stax back in '68 -- will close out this year's Last Mondays in Studio A concert series. Lyndell's performance, billed as a tribute to labelmate Otis Redding, will include her renditions of "These Arms of Mine" and "Hard To Handle." The reclusive Floridian, feted by author Rob Bowman as "The Woman Who Saved Stax" in the Oxford American a few years back, seldom performs.

The museum has also seen its share of administrative changes lately. In September, director Nashid Madyun left to open a branch of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the Gibson Guitar Factory. Carol Drake, a former Graceland employee, is now in charge of exhibitions and education at the museum, while Robin Bender went from Pat O'Brien's to manage Stax events and membership activities. Susan Green is now manager of operations, while Steve Walker has taken over the Stax gift shop.

Walker, a familiar face to anyone who's ever shopped for CDs in Memphis, started out selling vinyl and cassettes at Record Bar and Tracks before moving to Cat's Music in 1989. He managed the chain's Midtown location for more than a decade, he says, explaining that "while Cat's was really good to me, the opportunity at Stax is really neat, and I couldn't turn it down.

"This is a chance to work with a label and a logo that I worship," Walker says of his job switch. He doesn't expect to make major changes to the inventory, although he is adding CDs and DVDs by other classic soul artists, including Ray Charles and, of course, Sam Cooke. "This is a great place to find cool, off-the-beaten-path gifts," he notes. "Even when I was at Cat's, I did a lot of Christmas shopping here."

One product Walker will definitely be stocking is Can You Dig It?, a double-CD of the best of Isaac Hayes, released on Stax/Concord earlier this month. The collection covers Hayes' output from 1969 to 1975, which ranges from the Oscar-winning "Theme from Shaft" to a duet with Dionne Warwick, as well as material culled from blaxploitation soundtracks and Operation PUSH performances. Also included: a bonus DVD which features Hayes' show-stopping WattStax set, as well as an animated appearance from his role as "Chef" on Comedy Central's South Park series.

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