The last Saturday of April in Memphis is always one of the biggest days of the year for festivals and events, including the On Location: Memphis International Film and Music Festival, the Southern Hot Wing Festival, the Vollentine Evergreen Art Walk, and the Stax to the Max Soulsville Street Festival. The latter, which is free, is an annual outdoor party and concert, featuring many of the best living veterans of Stax, usually including William Bell, John Gary Williams and the Mad Lads, the Temprees and the Memphis revivalist band the Bo-Keys. Held on the back parking lot of the Stax Museum and the Stax Academy, crowds can run into the thousands.
The recent release of Robert Gordon’s superb new book Respect Yourself: The Rise and Fall of Stax Records has unleashed a flurry of renewed interest in Stax Records and its impact on Memphis. On March 6, 2014, a panel discussion was held at the student center at Rhodes College in Memphis, discussing the history and significance of Stax Records on the city of Memphis. Such panels had been held before, but this one was significant, as it featured voices from Stax that have not been heard quite as often- drummer Willie Hall, songwriter Bettye Crutcher, bluesman Don Nix and pianist/songwriter Marvel Thomas. Don Nix spoke forcefully and at length about how Stax was a different sort of place racially compared to Memphis at large until after the assasination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Bettye Crutcher talked about how she became a songwriter, and Willie Hall talked about his early career as a drummer at Stax. Altogether it was a fun and uplifting experience.
Memphis music author Robert Gordon has completed his latest book Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion, which is the third book to deal with the history of Stax Records, after Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music and Rob Bowman’s Soulsville, USA, and Gordon was at the Stax Museum in South Memphis on Saturday afternoon to sign copies of the new book. Memphis’ legendary bluesman (and former Mar-Key) Don Nix was also present, as were around a hundred or so people who came to get their books signed, enjoy food and drink, and hear Gordon read excerpts. An all-Stax concert featuring Don Nix, Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice was being held later down in Clarksdale at Ground Zero.
One of the better-kept secrets in Memphis is the Soulsville Street Festival, also known as Stax to the Max, a celebration of the South Memphis neighborhood around Stax and the legacy of great music that came from it.
The stage set up on the back parking lot behind the museum and Stax Music Academy featured a series of performances from local and out-of-town school groups, as well as former Stax artists The Astors, The Temprees, The Mad Lads and William Bell. In addition there were children’s crafts and recreational activities and food vendors, and a crowd of several hundred turned out on Sunday, after the event was postponed from Saturday due to rain.
William Bell returns to the neighborhood where it all began on Saturday 4/28/12 at the Stax to the Max Soulsville Street Festival, backed by Memphis’ own Bo-Keys, with the sun setting in the west. A supreme end to a truly awesome day in Memphis.
The Bo-Keys are a living repository of Memphis soul. Unlike many other bands that attempt to recreate the classic sounds of soul, the Bo-Keys involve Memphis soul legends like Howard Grimes, Nokie Taylor and Archie Mitchell, and back soul greats like Percy Wiggins and William Bell. They were the final act at the Stax to the Max Soulsville festival in South Memphis on Saturday, 4/28/12. Learn more about the Bo-Keys here: http://www.thebokeys.com/. Like them on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/thebokeys. Follow their Electrophonic label on Twitter @electrophonic. Learn more about the genius behind the Bo-Keys at http://www.scottbomar.com.