Josh Carbo, the twentyish proprietor of the Montpelier, Vermont, night club The Bridge, weaves his livelihood and his life from rock/blues/jazz acts. And when he set out this week for the weekends New Orleans Jazz Fest, he made sure he interrupted his trek with a key re-fueling stop in Memphis, widely regarded as a cradle for each of the foregoing musical styles and for one more, perhaps the Ur-cradle for the others -- Soul.
As the fates would have it, Carbos stopover in Memphis coincided with this weeks historic revival of the Stax/Volt music legacy which, in the 60s and 70s, supplemented the citys already glorious Sun Records experience (Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, et al.) and coincided with the simultaneous explosion of black music from Motown in Detroit. Like Motown, Stax was authentically African-American, but, more so than its Michigan counterpart, involved a collaboration between black and white artists.
This week, the old Stax studios at College and McLemore in a depressed South Memphis neighborhood -- torn down more than a decade ago in a penny-wise/pound-foolish act of urban negligence -- reopened in immaculately restored form as the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. Next door to it is a Stax Music Academy, where instruction in the upgraded art of downhome music will be offered; the number of takers, both locally and from elsewhere, should be numerous.
This was once-in-a-lifetime. Nothing will ever top this. Nothing, said Carbo in the wake of a visit to the museum and after attending, in a group including Memphis pal Coy Branan, a rising pop artist in his own right, a Soul Comes Home Stax Concert at the vintage Orpheum Theater. This was a gala evening that featured virtually every Memphis-based or Memphis-influenced soul artist youd ever heard of who was still alive and able to perform; there were many, many and, wow, could they!
The Mar-Keys, the Bar-Kays, Isaac Hayes, Al Green, Rance Allen, Solomon Burke, Percy Sledge, Mavis Staples, Ann Peebles, Percy Sledge, Eddie Floyd, Jean Knight. Instrumental acts like trumpeter Wayne Jackson and saxophonist Andrew Love, whose synchronized horn sound backed up many of the foregoing, and guitarist Steve Crooper and bassist Donald Duck Dunn, whose funky, intricate playing did the same.
And the hits kept coming: the Mar-Keys Last Night, Booker T. and the MGs Green Onions and Time Is Tight, Floyds Knock On Wood, Peebles I Cant Stand the Rain; Sledges When a Man Loves a Woman, Greens Lets Stay Together. There was Isaac Hayes conducting the orchestra in Shaft, there was monumentally sized Solomon Burke doing the honors for the late Otis Reddings Try a Little Tenderness. Michael McDowell, the old Doobie Brother, did the same for Reddings Sittin On the Dock of the Bay And, as they say, there was more more, more.
Actor Richard Rountree, functioning as one of the evenings MCs, recalled early on guitarist Croppers statement that coming to work at Stax every day was like coming to church. The analogy was more than fanciful. Pianist/singer Rance Allen -- a 300-lb.-plus Panda Bear like Burke, whose rollicking Ive Never Been to Paris was one of the evenings highlights, said during a break backstage, This all got started in church. Every bit of it. Its gospel all the way. Thats why they call it Soul.
Although Rountree, composer David Porter (Soul Man, co-written with Hayes), and the other MCs dutifully identified the other components -- country, jazz, and blues -- it indeed was the religious element, the Southern down-home fundamentalist kind featuring ecstatic feeling and literal rocking and rolling, that was on display Wednesday night and has been in the week of celebration and renewal represented by the Stax resurrection. Not for nothing does Hall of Famer Green continue to preach and sing gospel in his own Memphis church.
After this week, most of the other stars will move on and do their rockin and rollin and soulin and remembering somewhere else. But visitors to Memphis can get a whiff of it all in the museum -- in, as The Flyer
s Chris Davis reported last week, a meticulously recreated version of Staxs Sudio A, where Sam and Dave recorded Hold On! Im Coming; in a wall of albums on which all 300 LPs and 800 singles are represented; in Booker T. Jones Hammond organ; in Hayes Cadillac El Dorado, with its white fur interior. In -- again: more, more, more.
Stax artist William Bell began one of his vintage ballads at the Wednesday night Orpheum concert this way: In the beginning/ you really loved meÉ
They did, they do, and they will. The museum is there to see to that.