Monday, August 26, 2013

Respect Yourself!

Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul ExplosionRespect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion by Robert Gordon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Respect Yourself tells the story of Stax Records, from its founding to its rise and eventual demise.

I got this from Netgalley. Thank you, Netgalley!

If I had to pinpoint the moment I initially got interested in soul music, it was probably in 2007 when the CD player in my car shot craps and I was stuck listening to the radio. The only station that actually played music instead of obnoxious chatter when I was driving to work played a lot of soul. Pretty soon, I was hooked on Sam & Dave, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding. When I saw this on Netgalley, I jumped at the chance to review it.

Respect Yourself covers the life and times of Stax Records. Formed by Jim Stewart and his sister, soon joined by Al Bell, it started out as a tiny operation in Memphis with less than 10 employees. By the time of its demise less than 20 years later, it was a multi-million dollar company.

Stax launched the careers of Booker T and the MGs, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, the Bar-Kays, Isaac Hayes, and many others. I found it amazing that most of the musicians and staff in the early days also had day jobs. While producing a lot of Stax's early hits, Isaac Hayes worked at a slaughterhouse and Steve Cropper worked in a grocery store, for instance.

The label went through a lot of hard times, suffering setback after setback, like horrible relationships with partner labels like Atlantic and Columbia, the deaths of Otis Redding and most of the original Bar-Kays in a plane crash, to Atlantic stealing Sam & Dave shortly after Otis' death, Stax losing it's top two attractions in the span of months, only to keep on kicking until crooked bankers and debts finally brought it down.

Far from being a dry historical tome, Respect Yourself has tons of quotes from people who lived through it, like Willie Hall, Donald Duck Dunn, Isaac Hayes, and many others. As I read the book, I couldn't shake the urge to bust out some of my older Stax stuff for the commute to work, which shows how well a lot of Stax stuff has held up, 40 years after it was initially pressed.

If you're interested in the soul music of the 60's and 70's, Respect Yourself is a must-read. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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