The story of Stax Records unfolds like a Greek tragedy. A white brother and sister build a record company that becomes a monument to racial harmony in 1960's segregated south Memphis. Their success is startling, and Stax soon defines an international sound. Then, after losses both business and personal, the siblings part, and the brother allies with a visionary African-American partner. Under integrated leadership, Stax explodes as a national player until, Icarus-like, they fall from great heights to a tragic demise. Everything is lost, and the sanctuary that flourished is ripped from the ground. A generation later, Stax is rebuilt brick by brick to once again bring music and opportunity to the people of Memphis.
Set in the world of 1960s and '70s soul music, Respect Yourself is a story of epic heroes in a shady industry. It's about music and musicians -- Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, the Staple Singers, and Booker T. and the M.G.'s, Stax's interracial house band. It's about a small independent company's struggle to survive in a business world of burgeoning conglomerates. And always at the center of the story is Memphis, Tennessee, an explosive city struggling through heated, divisive years.
Told by one of our leading music chroniclers, Respect Yourself brings to life this treasured cultural institution and the city that created it.
In the late 1950s, Jim Stewart, and his sister, Estelle Axton, moved their little fledgling recording studio into the defunct Capitol Theater in Memphis, Tenn., opening their doors and establishing the record label that gave birth to gritty, funky soul music. A masterful storyteller, music historian Gordon (It Came from Memphis) artfully chronicles the rise and fall of one of America's greatest music studios, situating the story of Stax within the cultural history of the 1960s in the South. Stewart, a fiddle player who knew he'd never make it in the music business himself, one day overheard a friend talking about producing music; he soon gave it a try, and eventually he was supervising the acclaimed producer Chips Moman in the studio as well as creating a business plan for the label; Estelle Axton set up a record shop in the lobby of the theater, selling the latest discs but also spinning music just recorded in the studio and gauging its market appeal. Gordon deftly narrates the stories of the many musicians who called Stax home, from Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, and Otis Redding to Isaac Hayes, Sam and Dave, and the Staples Singers, as well as the creative marketing and promotional strategies the Stax-Volt Revue and Wattstax. By the early 1970s, bad business decisions and mangled personal relationships shuttered the doors of Stax. Today, the Stax sound permeates our lives and, in Gordon's words, "became the soundtrack for liberation, the song of triumph, the sound of the path toward freedom."