Kubernik: HBO Announces STAX Records Docu-Series

STAX Records HBO Multi-Part Docu-Series In Production 

HBO is preparing a new multi-part docu-series about landmark Memphis, Tennessee-based Stax label.

    In the 1960-1975 period the Stax company placed more than 167 hit songs in the Top 100 on the pop charts, and 243 hits in the Top 100 R&B charts.

    Stax launched the careers of such legendary artists as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Rufus & Carla Thomas, Johnny Taylor, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the MGs, Steve Cropper, Ron Capone, Albert King and numerous others

    The official Stax Records website reported, “HBO Documentary Films is currently in production on STAX, a multiple-part documentary series exploring the legendary Memphis-based record label, Stax Records, responsible for some of the greatest soul hits of the 1960s and 1970s. Directed by award-winning filmmaker Jamila Wignot, STAX is executive produced by Academy Award® winners Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow of Laylow Pictures and Emmy® winners Nigel Sinclair and Nicholas Ferrall of White Horse Pictures.

    “Presented in association with Concord Originals, Polygram Entertainment and Warner Music Entertainment, the series revisits the history of Stax Records and its meteoric rise and fall.   

*Photo of Booker T & The MG's by Henry Diltz

     “Founded in 1957 by Jim Stewart and co-owned with sibling Estelle Axton and later led by Al Bell, the label rose to fame over the course of several years with artists such as Otis Redding, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers and Sam & Dave.

    “STAX is the story of the audacious group of outsiders who dared to make their own music on their own terms. The series will feature rare and never-before-seen archive material and will explore how a confluence of forces – race, geography, musical traditions and the challenging world of the recording industry – helped shape a Stax spirit that continues to shape our culture.

    Executive producers are Scott Pascucci, Sophia Dilley and Michele Smith for Concord Originals; Jody Gerson and David Blackman for Universal Music Group’s Polygram Entertainment; and Charlie Cohen and Ron Broitman for Warner Music Entertainment. David Peck of Reelin’In The Years, Jeanne Elfant Festa and Cassidy Hartmann will act as co-executive producers. Wignot will also serve as a producer on the project, alongside series producer Kara Elverson. Rob Bowman, author of Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records is serving as a consultant on the series.”

   In a 2022 email, David Peck. Co-Executive Producer of Stax touted the upcoming Stax endeavor.

   “Stax records is very near and dear to my heart because the music that was cut in that Memphis studio from the late 1950s until it shut its doors in 1975 flows through my veins.

 “Back in 2007, I directed a documentary on Otis Redding (Dreams To Remember) as well as producing the DVD release of The Stax Volt Revue Live In Norway.” 

               Directive: Go watch the mind blowing Reelin In The Years’ DVD The Stax/Volt Revue Live In Norway 1967. Widely bootlegged in truncated and poor condition for many years, this is the first time the 75-minute concert is available“ on DVD that has been re-transferred from the original master tapes that had been resting in the television vaults for the last 40 years.

    The producers also discovered an additional lost reel with an extra 20 minutes of previously unseen performances from the same concert.  This footage had been edited out and forgotten for the last four decades, but now the missing songs have been restored, making this DVD the longest and most complete visual record of the legendary 1967 Stax/Volt tour.

     Highly recommended are the potent full-length performances, including five songs by Otis Redding, a blistering four song mini-concert recital by Sam & Dave. The DVD also spotlights Booker T & the MG’s, Arthur Conley, Eddie Floyd and the Mar-Keys. Issued with the full cooperation of the artists or their estates, this DVD captures the Stax/Volt Revue on an amazing night during one of most important concert tours of the last five decades. Rob Bowman wrote the 24-page booklet chronicling this seismic event.

   “About 50 or 55 minutes of Live In Norway has been bootlegged for years,” Bowman explained to me in a 2007 interview. “Poor quality of course and the new DVD is right off the master tapes, so the quality is inordinately superior. We found an extra 20 minutes, upon David Peck’s urging, an extra Otis, song, an extra Sam & Dave song, an extra Arthur Conley performance that none of us had ever seen. 20 minutes were filed under a tape the Atlantic All Stars. And the reason the tape was filed that way was because on the show posters it was Otis Redding and the Atlantic All Stars, because over there Atlantic was still distributing Stax. And, the name Stax didn’t have any particular meaning in Norway.”   

     The April 7, 1967 artifact reminds us once again of the versatility of Booker T. & the MG’s, and why the Mar-Keys provided the glue for the Stax music machine.  It showcases the promise of young Arthur Conley, who Otis Redding was grooming, and capturing just how expressive a vocalist Eddie Floyd truly was.

   “I know a lot of people who saw those 1968 shows in the UK who have recounted various experiences,” underlined Bowman.

    “One of the first things was a shock that Booker T. & the MG’s wasn’t an all-black band. They heard these sounds. They were intimately connected to these sounds and had never had a chance to experience it live in this way.

    “It’s arguable that that one 1967 tour, the Stax/Volt Revue was the most important soul music tour ever. Because you gotta remember that they were only playing to 1,500 and 2,000 seat houses so the reaction was intense, rabid maniacal. Lots of people in those audiences were musicians and the hipper people around that scene, like the Rolling Stones and Beatles, and a lot of musicians who weren’t as famous yet, like Peter Gabriel who talks about that show as transforming his very life. And also, the tastemakers in their local neighborhood, or writers from Blues and Soul.”

Harvey Kubernik is the author of 20 books, including 2009’s Canyon Of Dreams: The Magic And The Music Of Laurel Canyon and 2014’s Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll In Los Angeles 1956-1972.   Sterling/Barnes and Noble in 2018 published Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik’s The Story Of The Band: From Big Pink To The Last Waltz. In 2021 they wrote Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child for Sterling/Barnes and Noble.

    Otherworld Cottage Industries in 2020 published Harvey’s Docs That Rock, Music That Matters, featuring interviews with D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, Albert Maysles, Murray Lerner, Morgan Neville, David Leaf, Dick Clark, Curtis Hanson and Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

   Kubernik’s writings are in several book anthologies, including, The Rolling Stone Book Of The Beats and Drinking With Bukowski. Harvey wrote the liner notes to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s Tapestry, The Essential Carole King, Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, Elvis Presley The ’68 Comeback Special, The Ramones’ End of the Century and Big Brother & the Holding Company Captured Live at The Monterey International Pop Festival.