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Stax Records

From Academic Kids

Stax Records was a Memphis, Tennessee based record label that existed from 1959 to 1976. It is known as a major factor in the creation of the Southern soul and Memphis soul music styles, and as a frequent recorder of early funk and 1960s Chicago blues. Stax is also well known for having some of the first popular racially integrated bands.

Satellite Records (renamed to 'Stax' in 1961) was founded in 1959 by Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton. The first successful artists recorded by Satellite were vocalists Rufus and Carla Thomas, a father-daughter duo whose work attracted Atlantic Records, with whom Stewart made a contract giving ownership of master tapes and first choice on releasing recordings. Another of the early bands signed to the company was a Memphis group, The Mar-Keys, formerly known as The Royal Spades. Shortly thereafter, pianist Booker T Jones joined the label and, along with members of The Mar-Keys, began performing as Booker T. and the Memphis Group; this band's sound exemplified the style that Stax was looking for. In 1962, Stax created a subsidiary label, Volt, used for rhythm and blues music. The first artist released by Volt was Otis Redding, their most successful artist. Another hit-making act was Sam and Dave, sent to Stax by Atlantic. Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler frequently brought his artists to Memphis for recording sessions at Stax. In the BBC documentary Soul Deep he reported putting Wilson Pickett and Booker T. and the MGs' guitarist Steve Cropper in a motel room "with a bottle of Jack"; the night's work produced the soul standard "In The Midnight Hour".

In 1968, contract renegotiations fell through with Atlantic; Stewart sold the label to Gulf and Western in March of that year. Although Stax had lost their most valuable artists — Sam and Dave, who were signed to Atlantic, and Otis Redding, who had died shortly before the move between companies — they recovered quickly, building on such new artists as Isaac Hayes, whose Hot Buttered Soul album went triple-platinum in 1969. However, Stax's record sales were down overall under Gulf and Western's management. In 1970, Stewart and Al Bell, Stax's sales director, purchased the label back. Stax subsisted on its own for a short period until 1972, when negotiations with Columbia Records began. A deal was struck, but Stax's profits were cut severely; the company was unable to continue and, in 1976, went bankrupt.

Fantasy Records bought the post-Atlantic (post-May 1968) Stax recordings and continued to repackage and rerelease the Stax catalogue. Atlantic still has the rights to the Atlantic-era Stax recordings released up to May 1968 most of which have been reissued by co-owned Rhino Records. Fantasy did release a box set titled The Stax Story which includes Atlantic-era material.

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