Stax Memories 

Mere hours after the final Staxtacular partiers had left the building, Studio A at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music was converted into a makeshift auditorium, as songwriters Sir Mack Rice and Bettye Crutcher, Ardent Studios founder John Fry, and mastering expert Larry Nix took the stage last Sunday afternoon for a "behind the scenes" panel discussion about Stax Records.

Fry described Stax co-founder Estelle Axton as "a brilliant market researcher" during his reminiscences, which ran from his days as a teenager shopping at Axton's Satellite Record Shop to his work as an engineer on some of Stax's greatest sessions, cut at Ardent when Stax's own recording studio was overbooked.

"I can't think of a single major Stax artist other than Otis Redding that we didn't work with at Ardent," Fry told the crowd at the sold-out event. "I was 21 when we started working together, but I looked like I was 16. I don't know why they trusted me, but they did."

A shy Nix described preparing for a job interview that never came. Instead, he simply lent a helping hand in the original Studio A, and, he noted incredulously, "at the end of the week, they gave me a paycheck."

Describing the mood that permeated the building during Stax's heyday, Crutcher commented, "We were Trojans. We were victorious. The experience was something I could never have paid for. Sitting here in the middle of all this talent, I don't think anybody wanted to go home, even when there was a curfew after Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated."

click to enlarge Sir Mack Rice - NICOLE C. PERUGINI

Rice, a Clarksdale, Mississippi, native who moved to Detroit before returning south to work as a songwriter, said that while Motown churned out good songs in the 1960s, "they just didn't get the funk.

"I might be partial, but I know what I feel," he remarked of his Stax tenure, which yielded hits such as "Cheaper To Keep Her," a million-seller for Johnnie Taylor.

All four music-industry veterans strove to depict the family-like atmosphere at Stax, which crossed racial boundaries at a time when the rest of the city remained segregated.

"White, black -- it didn't make no difference," Rice maintained.

"When I met John Lennon, he knew my catalog. Can you fathom what that meant?" asked Crutcher, who penned songs such as "Somebody's Been Sleeping in My Bed" and co-authored the mammoth "Who's Making Love?"

"We had no idea that anybody would be talking about our careers today. We did it because we loved doing it."

click to enlarge The Limes' Shawn Cripps - NICOLE C. PERUGINI

Fry, a self-described "Stax evangelist," sang the praises of the Stax Music Academy and the history contained within the four walls of the Stax Museum. "Stuff that's not supposed to happen has always happened in Memphis, Tennessee," he told a rapt audience. "This is a place where things that aren't supposed to fit together do. A lot of people think museums are dead, but this place is alive."

They're 47 years shy of celebrating their 50th, but it's a busy time for Goner Records nonetheless. A month ago, photographer Marc Joseph's study of independent book and record shops, New & Used, was released, featuring an image shot at Goner.

Last weekend, as an offshoot of the International Folk Alliance Conference (see music feature, page 27), the Midtown record shop hosted an impromptu "Goner Folk Fest," which included performances by Peter Case, Tommy Erdelyi, Harlan T. Bobo, and The Limes, as well as a reading by Pink Floyd/Nick Drake producer Joe Boyd.

Now, store owners Eric Friedl and Zac Ives are preparing for their third-year anniversary, which kicks off with free in-store performances Saturday, March 3rd, by Tyler "Kid Twist" Keith, The Barbaras, The Boston Chinks, and The Tearjerkers, as well as an appearance by Crime alumnus Jeff Golightly and the debut of a new band led by Justice Naczycz. The free party at Goner starts at 1 p.m. Later that night, Bobo, The Preacher's Kids, and Jay Reatard will continue the celebration at the Hi-Tone Café.

Goner is also readying its second South by Southwest Music Festival showcase, slated to hit Austin's Beerland on March 15th. Already on the bill: Reatard as well as King Louie Bankston's one-man band and local group the Boston Chinks, plus honorary Goners The Carbonas, Digital Leather, and Ryan Wong's Yuma County.

Also representing Memphis at SXSW: A showcase starring bands from the Makeshift music collective and one put together by River City Tanlines frontwoman/Contaminated Records head Alicja Trout, plus a panel appearance by comedy-label owner and Memphis Flyer contributor Andrew Earles. For more information, go to

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