With so many classic albums of 1969 celebrating their half-century mark this year, it would be easy for music fans to sleep on an especially stellar LP reissued with extra care this month — and that would be a shame. The Bar-Kays' Gotta Groove, originally released on Volt Records, a Stax subsidiary, was a watershed moment for Stax, for the group themselves, and for all things funky.
Besides helping to launch an approach to a harder-hitting funk/rock that would come to define the 1970s, the album was the result of the sheer tenacity and invention that kept Stax going. The label, having learned in late 1967 that Atlantic Records claimed ownership of the entire Stax catalog up to that point, was being reborn in a flurry of era-defining releases, celebrated by the double Soul Explosion album, which contained several hits generated by the newly restructured label in 1968. Meanwhile, while the label lost one its greatest stars in the plane crash that claimed Otis Redding's life, the Bar-Kays, who started out as the label's youngest band in 1966, and enjoyed immediate success with their Soulfinger LP, lost most of their members in the same crash. But James Alexander and Ben Cauley, Jr., the only surviving Bar-Kays, forged ahead, and Gotta Groove was their shot across the bow in the name of rebirth, reinvention and survival.
This year, Craft Recordings launched a painstakingly-crafted reissue series, celebrating many of the works that marked the rebirth of Stax in the 1968-69 period. The select titles have been cut from their original analog tapes by Jeff Powell at Memphis’ Take Out Vinyl and pressed on 180-gram vinyl at Memphis Record Pressing, making this a labor of love by some world-class local establishments.
Along with the records, Craft has created The Memphis Masters—a limited video series celebrating the reissued albums and showcasing Stax's enduring musical legacy, as well as its influence on Memphis, TN. Created in partnership with Memphis Record Pressing and Memphis Tourism, and directed by Andrew Trent Fleming of TheFilmJerk Media, the multi-part series was shot in several locations around the city, including Sam Phillips Recording Service, Royal Studios and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
Each episode—available on YouTube—will revolve around an album or collection from a singular artist or group on Stax’s roster, starting with Melting Pot from Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Other titles covered include Home, from husband-and-wife songwriting duo Delaney & Bonnie, Who’s Making Love from Johnnie Taylor and Victim of the Joke?...An Opera from acclaimed producer and songwriter David Porter. The Staple Singers will also be honored with a deluxe, seven-LP box set, Come Go With Me: The Stax Collection, available in early 2020. The majority of the single albums were recently released on November 1st, while LPs from Porter and Taylor will be reissued on December 6th.
The Bar-Kays today
And today, The Memphis Flyer is proud to announce Episode Two in The Memphis Masters series, celebrating Gotta Groove by The Bar-Kays, It's a rare deep dive into the making of an era-defining work, with commentary by artists young and old on its lasting influence. Watch here to see how the album was created, literally from the ashes of the tragedy that claimed the lives of so many, and amidst the turmoil surrounding the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Then, get out to Record Store Day and get yourself a copy.