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Photo Gallery: Music of Stax Records @ Highline Ballroom

Eddie Floyd, Vocals; Steve Cropper, Guitar; Donald “Duck” Dunn, Bass; Lester Snell, Keyboards; Anton Fig, Drums. Full coverage of this show can be found here.

Click any image to enlarge and launch viewer. All photos copyright 2011 Peter Parrella.

The Music of Stax Records @ Highline Ballroom, NYC

Click Image to Enlarge. Photo Copyright Peter Parrella 2011
Full Photo Gallery is here.

A Brotherhood of Soul

On Sunday evening June 26, 2011 Manhattan’s Highline Ballroom heated up for a soul revue featuring The Music of Stax Records. With the neo-soul movement in full bloom and folks intent on partying like it’s 1965, there’s no better time to turn attention to the musicians who originally forged that sound. If you hear song titles like “Soul Man”, “Green Onions” and “Dock of the Bay” you could probably sing, hum or whistle those tunes in a heartbeat. They have become part of the world’s cultural memory. If you hear the names Steve Cropper or Donald “Duck” Dunn, the response might be less automatic. In truth those tunes and so many others like “In the Midnight Hour” would not exist without those gentlemen and their cohorts of the time organist Booker T. Jones and their drummer the late Al Jackson Jr..

As The MG’s and part of the “house band” for Stax Records in Memphis Tennesee, these musicians built on the promise Elvis made ten years earlier with a mixture of country and blues that came to be known as “soul music”. It’s not the Motown kind of soul music which was quite purposefully pop in comparison. Stax stayed a lot closer to the chicken coop and while the label’s stars could spruce it up in shark skin and mohair with the best of them you always got the feeling that Wilson Picket might cut you; Diana Ross – well – probably not.

Raise A Hand!

The evening opened with Cropper and Dunn, working with keyboardist Lester Snell and Paul Schaefer Late Night Band drummer Anton Fig, playing some of their classic instrumentals. They effectively laid out the signature bass grooves, buzzing Hammond B3 and stinging guitar licks of “Hip-Hug-Her”, “Booker-Loo”, “Time Is Tight”, “Soul Limbo” and of course “Green Onions”. Cropper, showcasing his sparse playing style, made every note count on the melody of “Summertime”. “Duck” and Steve have been life long friends and play with an intuitive ease to prove it. It’s all done with an almost imperceptible nod, a half smile, or sometimes a bemused stare. It’s fun to watch these guys having fun.

When singer Eddie Floyd was introduced to the stage and launched into “Raise A Hand” the show shifted to high gear. Just one day past his 74th birthday Floyd was a dynamo traversing the stage continuously, working up a sweat and pulling pretty ladies out of the audience to dance with him. The audience responded in kind, and quickly got on their feet dancing along to classic tunes like “Knock On Wood” and “634-5789 (Soulsville USA)”, both authored by Floyd. “On A Saturday Night” had the audience singing along oblivious to the fact that it was really a “school night”.

Play It Steve!

As expected set ender “Soul Man” blew the lid off the place. Current recognition of the Stax label’s monumental contribution music can be traced in part to the continued success of Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi’s “The Blues Brothers”. A loving and hilarious homage to the music they loved. “It’s always on cable TV” Cropper noted. “New” Blues Brothers joined Floyd on stage for this number, trading lead lines, mock boxing and ultimately genuflecting to kiss the ring of the soul pontif.

The band gifted the Highline crowd with a surprise performance of “Dock of the Bay” as the encore; the posthumously released Otis Redding song apparently one that Floyd had declined to cover. But, with a pinch of “Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)” thrown in for spice it turned into a fitting and respectful remembrance and closed the show with the audience whistling its plaintive refrain.

A Royale Salute

Steve Cropper’s new album titled “Dedicated” is due for release in early August. It’s a salute to the music of early R&B group The “5” Royales and guitarist Pete Pauling. The star studded CD includes performances by Steve Winwood, Bettye Lavette, Sharon Jones, Brian May, Delbert McClinton Spooner Oldham, B B King, Lucinda Williams, Steve Jordan. Promises to be an exceptional listen. Pre-order link is below.

Dedicated

William Bell @ B.B. King Blues Club (1/2010)

What a treat. An awesome double shot surprise for the second of three “Season of (Johnny) Winter” Mondays at BB King’s in NYC. This time the opening act was the great singer songwriter William Bell. On this gig his back-up band was headed by former Saturday Night Live band leader, guitarist G.E. Smith, with the addition of the Uptown Horns. It was a perfect soul revue staging that allowed Mr. Bell to explore the full range of his smooth but powerful voice, even in their too short stint on stage.

Though Bell did not enjoy the high profile of soul cross-over artists like Wilson Picket and Otis Redding, as one of the earliest recording artists on the Stax Records label he became a seminal figure in the creation of the southern soul sound. His key song “You Don’t Miss Your Water” (which he wrote and recorded as a teenager in 1961) continues to be a blueprint for gospel tinged, organ driven & muted horn R&B. While my favorite interpretation of the song was recorded by Brian Eno and John Cale on their “Wrong Way Up” album it was most notably covered by the Byrds during Graham Parson’s time in the group. It is no surprise that the G. E. Smith led backing band was so perfectly attuned with Bell since the elegiac ending music SNL used throughout Smith’s tenure was solidly based on “You Don’t Miss your Water’s” feel.

Guitarist G. E. Smith


Mr. Bell is also co-author of a cornerstone of electric blues “Born Under a Bad Sign”. Originally written with Booker T. Jones for inclusion on the Albert King album of the same name, the song found its way into late 1960’s pop culture when it was covered by Cream. Much to the amusement of the audience, Bell noted that the most recent cover version of the song was done by a newer pop icon, Homer Simpson. The tune was used as an opportunity to stretch out with individual members of the horn section getting a chance to shine and Mr. Smith accurately aiming a short but sweet solo featuring the stinging Telecaster sound he is noted for. Along with his own compositions, Mr. Bell peppered the set with snippets of well known soul sounds, including a bit of Otis Redding’s “Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)” and Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me”.

Volumes have been written exploring how “Memphis Soul” evolved from the confluence of high lonesome country music, sanctified gospel and gut-bucket blues but if you truly want to understand its force you have to hear it done live. There are few better ways to experience the power of soul then spending an evening enraptured by the voice of Mr. Bell. Here’s hoping he will return to BB’s or maybe Highline Ballroom for a headlining show or two in the near future.

To view more of Kenny Pierce’s photos and read his review of the night, including headliner Johnny Winter, please click this link.