While thanks to Justin Timberlake, Stax Records may rise again, alumni of the little label that could aren't just sitting around waiting to see what happens.
This summer, William Bell released New Lease on Life, his first solo album in six years, on his own WilBe label. Bell, who hit big in the '60s with songs such as "You Don't Miss Your Water," has lived in Atlanta since 1970.
"I don't see any difference in what I'm doing now. I'm using more modernized sounds, but I try to stick pretty true to the genre of the music," says the singer, who cut the album at his own studio in the Atlanta suburb of College Park. "I don't follow the fads, but I love that even in the rap genre, I've had a number of people -- from Ludacris to Dilated Peoples -- use my lyrics and sample my music. It keeps me alive with the younger generation."
While Bell's stayed on the same path for the last four decades, Sam Moore -- the surviving half of the classic Stax duo Sam & Dave -- somewhat reinvents himself with Overnight Sensational, his long-awaited first solo album, which hit store shelves in late August.
"Every record company that had implied they'd like to record Sam Moore, their thing was this: First, get a Dave," says Moore, "or get any guy and call him Dave. Number two was, do the Sam & Dave classics. Everyone I ran into said that to me. But I can sing songs other than 'Soul Man' and 'Hold On I'm Comin'.
"I've been there, done that. While being part of a duo was wonderful, it's also an albatross. Why would I want to do that again? Fortunately, Rhino was very kind," he says of the Randy Jackson-produced album, which pairs him with singing partners such as Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Jon Bon Jovi, Mariah Carey, Travis Tritt, and Vince Gill for covers ranging from Seals & Croft's "Riding Thumb" to Ann Peebles' "I Can't Stand the Rain."
"I've recorded in every city, every country you'd want to, except maybe Russia," Moore says, "and I've had some of the worst producers and some of the best. I'd have to put Randy right up there as one of the best. He's between Isaac Hayes and Tom Dowd. I gotta tell you, he stepped up to the plate. It's all about the material and getting it well produced."
Bell, who self-produced New Lease on Life, notes "the recording process has changed tremendously since Stax. When we were using a four-track, it was a big accomplishment to just overdub the lead singer. Now with ProTools, we have the luxury of coming back and making it better. I like having that second chance."
Raised in North Memphis, Bell still returns home quite often. He was one of the headliners at the Ponderosa Stomp in May, and he plans to make a return trip to perform at a WDIA-sponsored concert in November. "A lot of my family is still in Memphis," he says, "but it's the Stax Museum that's in my heart. Anything they do to keep the legacy alive is good. It's all about giving back and passing the torch. Their music academy is a wonderful thing. I wish we'd had it when I was coming up. My schooling was at the Flamingo Room downtown."
During his stint at Stax, Moore never actually lived in Memphis. He's resided in Arizona for the last 20 years. "I was in transit. I mostly stayed in Miami. I'd come in to record and stay at the Holiday Inn," he says.
Moore, who left Stax in '68, when that label's distribution deal with Atlantic was terminated and who ended his relationship with Sam & Dave producers Hayes and David Porter somewhat acrimoniously, says, "Maybe one day, we can stop being hurt, stop looking at each other with cross eyes, and move on with our lives. That's what I'm doing.
"I had some wonderful times at Stax," he reminisces. "Isaac was an instrument in my life. I learned a lot from that bald-headed guy. He taught me how to set up a song, how to sell a record. Everyone talks about the Memphis sound. That Memphis sound belongs to Isaac Hayes. Whether or not he gets the credit is another story. Over the years, our friendship has dwindled some, and it hurts, but when we get together, we still say, 'I love ya, Baldy' and 'I love ya, Bubba.'
"I haven't been to Memphis in a loooong time," says Moore, adding with a chuckle, "No one has invited me!"