Stax Profiles: Hearts Full Of Soul, Part 2: Otis Redding, The Staples Singers, Johnnie Taylor, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas
(For an introduction to Stax Records, read Stax Profiles Part 1.)
The most beautiful flowers of Otis Redding's music blossomed from his faithful, country gospel roots. When he sang soul music, he was at worshipnot at the altar of any deity but in the temple of primal human emotion. Redding sang of love and hurt and longing and redemption with a passionate intensity that continues to transcend space and time.
Perhaps due to his personal familiarity with Redding's material, Steve Cropper, who compiled this disc, selects no fewer than five alternate versions (including "Mr. Pitiful ) and five singles Redding released on Volt Records for this compilation.
Swinging up-tempo, like Sam Cooke's "Shake or the Rolling Stones' "I Can't Get No Satisfaction, Redding sure could rock the house. But when he slowed down, Redding could bring the walls tumblin' down. "My Lover's Prayer, his own composition, captures in three perfect minutes all the uncertainty, the anguished abandonment, of unrequited love. And when he opens "A Change Is Gonna Come (another Cooke composition) with the line "I was born by the river in this little old tent/ And just like this river, I've been running ever since, you find yourself transported to the banks of a river that timelessly flows, part of Redding's search for a love that he has never seen but would never doubt exists.
"I've Got Dreams To Remember, a simply beautiful melody, ends with sweet, sad memories of what might have been.
(Compiled by Steve Cropper, songwriter and guitarist for Booker T & The MGs, who wrote and produced many of Redding's biggest hits. According to Cropper, "I have always said, if you took a half jar of Little Richard and a half jar of Sam Cooke and mixed them together, you would come out with a full jar of Otis Redding. )
The Staples Singers
The Staples Singerspatriarch and guitarist Roebuck "Pops Staples and his vocal progeny Mavis, Cleotha, Yvonne and Perviswas a musical family whose music invited you into the family of all mankind. From Pops' gospel work with the Trumpet Jubilees in the late 1930s through their funky Let's Do It Again soundtrack with Curtis Mayfield in 1975, their recorded history shadows the trajectory of popular music through several decades. The Staples Singers helped keep time for black popular culture from the dawn of the Civil Rights movement to Soul Train.
The Staples recorded several of their biggest hits during their 1968-1975 Stax tenure, supported by Booker T & The MGs, the Memphis Horns, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and the Muscle Shoals rhythm engine, and this set begins with perhaps their biggest and brightest hit: "I'll Take You There. Simultaneously swinging loose and tight, it glides down the tracks of a string-popping Muscle Shoals bass line, rocked by Mavis' vocal like a real mother.
This Profile also includes the Staples' cross-pollination covers of Sly Stone's celebratory "Everyday People and The Band classic "The Weight, heavy with its own gospel overtones. ("The Weight and "Long Walk To D.C., produced by Cropper in Memphis, were also reissued on the Soul Folk in Action anthology.)
But hit records are not the primary reason why the Staples Singers remain well loved. Their music proved so resonant and enduring because of its message. "Respect Yourself was an important record not only because of its chart success but because of what it said to listeners of every race and creed. Or consider the answers raised by these lyrics to "Are You Sure :
Are you sure there's nothing you can do
To help someone worse off than you
Think about your answer
Are you sure?
The Staples Singers believed that music could change the world. In the post-millennial aftermath of gangsta rap, smooth jazz and death metal, this belief might seem foolish... or wonderful.
(Compiled by musician manager and producer Cheryl Pawelski, whose projects include The Band: A Musical History box set.)
In his own way Johnnie Taylor embodied this same American black music journey, and this compilation begins with him singing gospel music with the Soul Stirrers and the Highway Q.C's and ends with him cooing with his throbbing "Disco Lady.
These early gospel tracks include Taylor's feature with the Soul Stirrers, "Out on a Hill (almost unbelievably produced by Sonny Bono). "Rome Wasn't Built in a Day echoes the sound of Taylor's mentor, Sam Cooke, who wrote and produced it for him. (Upon Cooke's own recommendation, Taylor assumed Cooke's place in the Soul Stirrers when Cooke stepped out for his solo career.)