"Memphis didn't have a professional football team or a professional basketball team [in the '70s]," says freelance writer-turned-playwright Tony Jones chomping down on a footlong chili slaw dog from Al's Tasty Burger on Crump. "What Memphis had was Stax records."
Jones recalls the days when the Tasty Burger was located on McLemore near Stax records, and when the studio musicians would come into his mother's beauty shop to bum enough change for one of Al's slaw-and-baked-bean-slathered franks. These are the kinds of memories Jones shares in his play Ride On: How Stax Records Influenced our Dreams, which previews Sunday at Southwest Tennessee Community College.
Jones recalls times when Isaac Hayes would play football with the neighborhood kids while wearing his monkey fur boots. He recalls the time his mother sent a cab to pick him up from school to see Hayes riding around the neighborhood in his "solid gold" Cadillac.
"Sure, we knew where all the pimps and players hung out," Jones says, allowing that the neighborhoods seedier elements also had flashy clothes and cars. "But [the Stax musicians] were legit." According to Jones, seeing the legitimate success of performers like Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays sent a message to kids in the post civil rights era.
"It told us kids that we could be anything we wanted to be," he says. Jones thinks that message was subverted in 1976 when Stax went out of business, and symbols of unity, hope and prosperity became less prevalent in Memphis' African-American community.
"Nobody's ever really told our story the way it needs to be told,' Jones says of the children who grew up in the Soulsville neighborhood when Stax was a hit-making powerhouse. Ride On! is directed by local filmmaker Yosiah Morrow and set immediately after Stax closed. It's inspired by the life of Mad Lads vocalist William Brown, and tells the story of three little boys from South Memphis who all want mini-bikes for Christmas.
Anyone interested in a sneak preview of Ride On! can catch a stage reading of the play at 3 p.m. on Sunday June 1st at Southwest Tennessee Community College's Union Campus Theater. The show opens on Friday, June 6th and runs every weekend in June. For additional information, call 406-5755.