Interview with Percy Sledge [Listen 25:01 min] – “When a man loves a woman” or (Why did you leave me baby?)
Interview Date: November 11, 2011 @11am EDT
Special Guest: Percy Sledge – this R&B Superstar was one of the key figures of what was to be later classified as “the 60’s Deep Southern Soul”. Signed to Atlantic Records in 1966, Percy Sledge’s very first recording for the label turned out to be one of the labels biggest hits. Mr.Sledges beautifully gut wrenching song “When a man loves a Woman” is one of the most loved and referenced songs of all time. In the interview, Percy Sledge and I talk about how he got started, what the soul scene was like back in the day, some of the key figures in his career and even the recording of “When a man loves a woman.”
Stax/Volt Records - Buying the best Soul Around!
What better way to start off this week article than talk about Atlantics old business partner Stax/Volt Records; one of the best 60’s soul/R&B labels in the world. Created by brother and sister duo Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton*; the company was to rival Motown Records in its prime. Based in Memphis, Tennessee this company was originally intended to create rockabilly, pop and country records on 45s for their customers. Jim Stewart being a white country fiddler had no aspirations or intentions on creating one of the coolest mixed race environments of its time; he just kind of fell into it. Financially strapped, Stewart and his right-hand man Chip Moman, made a decision in early 1960 to move the recording company (originally called Satellite Records at the time) to an abandoned movie theatre in the south of Memphis. The decision turned out to be a shrewd one. This decision would also change the history of popular music forever. The movie theatre was located in a newly racially changing neighborhood (White people were moving out and Black people were moving in).
The theatre that he and his sister bought (originally called the Capital Theatre) was split in half and some acoustic dampening material was then fastened to the walls and ceiling. Then the stage of the theatre, where the theatres screen stood, was converted to the control booth. The theatre seats were taken out but a decision was made to leave the sloping of the floors and its angled walls. The shape and layout of the studio turned out to be totally unique and acoustically interesting when artist were recorded. The sloped floors and uneven walls allow the sound in this historic studio to reverberate and bounce off uneven surfaces creating a ‘live’ feeling to the recordings. Though this is interesting the real change for the label happened when Axton decided to convert the theatre’s candy shop into a record shop.
Black kids started to hang out at the record shop. Quickly this clientèle started contributing and influencing what was actually going on in and around the studio. The record shop not only provided a much needed income but provided a perfect place for testing material and for recruiting local talent. The studio became a melting pot of black and white artist; something that hadn’t been seen elsewhere (especially in Tennessee). The house band of this studio reflects this diversity. The house band consisted of Booker T. Jones and or Isaac Hayes on organ and piano, Steve Cropper on Guitar (influenced by Chet Atkins), Duck Dunn (replacing Lewie Steinberg and heavily influenced by Paul McCartney) on Bass and Al Jackson Jr. on drums. There was also a mixed race horn section called the Memphis Horn s which became famous because they helped add a rhythm section to the Stax Sound.
Now let’s get to the matter at hand. Finding and collecting these treasures is a fun and often cheap thing to do. I have found some of my best Stax records in bargain bins (though some I have willingly paid full price). Not bad for a dynamite record that both sounds and looks cool. If you are having company over, try throwing one of these bad boys on and see if it set a cool retro, positive and energetic vibe to your party? Some notable (though not exclusively) artist to look for on this label are: Booker T. & the MG’s, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, and Albert King. Enjoy hunting.1
* the name ‘Stax’ actually comes from the last names of the two siblings, Jim ‘ST’ewart and Estelle ‘AX’ton.
1. Stax: 50th Anniversary Celebration by Rob Bowman, Concord Music Group, 2007