Behind the Music
Everybody recognizes the famous faces of Tennessee's music stars. But what about the people who made things happen behind the scene? Here's a look at a few of those folks.
Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, Stax Records
Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton founded Stax Records in Memphis and, along with Motown, brought soul music into the mainstream during the 1960s and ë70s. 'Soulsville, U.S.A.' produced some of the greatest acts—and the greatest hits—in music history: Otis Redding, Booker T and the MGs, Eddie Floyd, Johnnie Taylor, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, even Wilson Picket and Sam & Dave. Stax and affiliates cranked out 300 albums, 800 singles and167 certified hit singles by 1975.
Stewart came to Memphis from Middleton to play fiddle for the Canyon Cowboys, working a day job at a bank. Axton mortgaged her home to buy recording equipment and, in 1959, became his partner at Satellite Records. They changed the name to Stax, a compound of their last names, and began making hit records, starting with Rufus and Carla Thomas, who kicked things off with 'Cause I Love You,' followed by a string of dance hits like 'Walking the Dog.' Stax writers Isaac Hayes and David Porter launched a long streak of hits for Sam & Dave, such as the iconic 'Soul Man' and 'Hold On, I'm Coming.' After Redding and most of the Bar-Kays died in a plane crash, Stax released Redding's 'Dock of the Bay,' which shot to the top of both pop and R&B charts. In 2002, Stewart was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Cowboy Jack Clement, writer, producer
Jack Clement knew how to make things happen. After college, the Marines, and a stint on the bluegrass circuit, he headed home to Memphis. At Sun Records he ran the mixing board for Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Charlie Rich. Sun owner Sam Phillips was out of town when, in 1957, Jerry Lee Lewis came by to audition. Clement heard him and put him in the studio. Then Clement made the suggestion that changed the path of American music: he asked the band to jam a little. When they started 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On,' Clement began to record, mixing as they played. After the session, they knew they had something special, and 'Shakin'' headed to the top of the charts.
Clement gained a reputation as a go-to guy; talent began appearing at his door. Clement both performed (a kid named Elvis opened for him at a local club) and nurtured a variety of artists. He wrote hits for Johnny Cash, worked for Chet Atkins at RCA, and convinced George Jones to record the smash, "She Thinks I Still Care." He financed a demo for future star Charley Pride and wrote his first hits. On his JMI label, Clement launched Don Williams and made what may be the first music video. He first published Townes Van Zandt, and produced cuts for Louis Armstrong and U2's 'Rattle and Hum' sessions. He worked with Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Paul McCartney, Doc Watson, and John Prine. Along the way, he built four studios, produced a horror film and wrote for a musical who's who, from Dolly Parton to Tom Jones. He is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and Rockabilly Hall of Fame and hosts a show on Sirius radio.
Sam Phillips, Sun Records
When he opened Memphis Recording Service in 1950, Sam Phillips brought along two vital things he learned working as a deejay: strong knowledge of sound engineering and an ear for the sound and emotion of the blues. He recorded anything to make a dollar, including funerals, but it was his interest in the rhythm and blues of black musicians that made him a music legend. When he opened Sun Records in 1952, he began making records that changed the social landscape. Phillips had a vision of a creative, spontaneous place where musicians of all genres could interact, limited only by their own imagination.
He recorded what many people consider the first rock and roll record: 'Rocket 88' by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, led by teenager Ike Turner. He recorded black R & B artists such as James Cotton, Rufus Thomas, Bobby Blue Bland and the blues legends B.B. King and Howlin' Wolf. Then came Elvis, the performer who could blend the excitement and energy of the blues with strong veins of country, gospel, and boogie. Elvis attracted more groundbreaking artists, and the group became known as the Million Dollar Quartet: Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. With Phillips, they fused the drums and rhythm of jazz and blues with country to create the Rockabilly movement and the famous Sun Sound. It was this fusion of styles that reached across racial and regional barriers to change popular culture.
Cas Walker, grocer, politician, radio entertainer
The flamboyant Walker, a Sevier County native, left the coal mines of Kentucky to open a small grocery store in Knoxville in 1924. A master salesman and promoter, he built his store into a chain, was elected to city council, and later became mayor of Knoxville. He was aggressive, innovative, opinionated—and very entertaining. He appeared on the cover of Life magazine after a fist fight with another councilman, and kept listeners coming back to his radio show on WIVK and his 'Farm and Home Hour' on WBIR television, just to see what he might say next. His shows became the launching pad for 12-year-old Dolly Parton, the Everly Brothers and Jim Nabors. He showcased Bill Monroe, the Osborne Brothers, Roy Acuff and numerous other bluegrass icons. He chastised the Everly Brothers for 'gyrations' inappropriate for family viewing, and fired a family of singers for playing 'that rock-n-roll stuff,' but his legacy is defined by the numerous country and bluegrass artists he promoted through his shows.
Isaac Hayes and David Porter, singers, songwriters
Isaac Hayes began his music career in 1962 as a Book Benton imitator. His first records were flops, and continued to love in poverty until he met insurance salesman David Porter. Hayes got a job playing piano on recording sessions at Stax Records. In the meantime, he and Porter were working behind the scenes as house composers for the impressive stable of Stax singers. They had a particular knack for writing mega-hits for Sam and Dave: 'Soul Man, 'You Don't Know Like I Know,' 'Hold On! I'm Comin',' 'You Got Me Hummin',' 'When Something Is Wrong With My Baby,' 'Soul Man,', and 'I Thank You.' They also wrote for Carla Thomas ('B-A-B-Y'), Johnnie Taylor ('I Got to Love Somebody's Baby') and more.
As Hayes' remarkable solo career took off, Porter teamed with Ronnie Williams and for a while resurrected the Stax label. Porter and Hayes were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.
Date: Dec 10, 2013
A Celebration of Museum Artist Members of 2013
Location: Nashville, TN
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