Thursday, July 10, 2008


Listen to SOMETHING by Booker T. & The MG's.

It doesn't look like it's a book I've mentioned on the blog yet, but it's a book I've thought a lot about since reading it earlier this year: "Soulsville, U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records," by Rob Bowman.

The Stax story makes for a tremendous read, but it's also really sad on a lot of levels. First and foremost, of course, Stax created a ton of great music.

Stax was an inspiration as a successful small business and independent music label. Stax was also one of the great integrated businesses, and later, a success and model as a Black-owned business.

But Stax also failed as a business and as a role model on all of those counts. It was choked to death by bad deals with major labels; the racial turmoil of the mid-to-late Sixties polarized and undermined the (sort of) color blind character of the company; and Al Bell wasn't able to build a sustainable business over a period of years.

The book goes into all this in great, sympathetic detail.

One of the central figures in Stax was Booker T. & the M.G.'s. This group would have been legendary anyway as Stax's house band, but they also achieved fame as an instrumental group (everyone in the world has heard 1962's Green Onions, whether they know it or not). But the group was never the most cohesive (to be honest, it wasn't really a group, per se, but the name given when Booker T., Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, and Al Jackson, mainly, recorded together), and Booker T.'s position with Stax became increasingly untenable over the years (read the book), and so 1970's "McLemore Avenue" was one of their last offerings.

Something is from "McLemore Avenue," which itself is an entire cover album of "Abbey Road"--Abbey Road runs in front of Abbey Road (f.k.a. EMI) Studios, and McLemore Avenue runs in front of Stax. The album as a whole has rightly been described as a curio, but the quality of the playing (and also the underlying emotional turmoil within the group and the label) makes it a worthwhile listen.

Photo: Cape Cod garden (4).


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