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Stax/Volt - Volume 6



Volume Six

1. Laudromat Blues – Albert King
East Music*
Stax 190
Released April 20, 1966
Highest Chart Position: R&B #29

2. Sugar Sugar – Mad Lads (2:30)
East Music*
Volt 135
Released April 27, 1966

3. Share What You Got (But Keep What You Need) – William Bell (2:45)
East Music*
Stax 191
Released May 12, 1966
Highest Chart Position: R&B #27

4. Marching Off To War – Williams Bell
East Music*
Stax 191-B
Released May 12, 1966

5. My Lover’s Prayer – Otis Redding
East-Time-Redwal Music*
Volt 136
Released May 12, 1966
Highest Chart Position: R&B #6 / Pop #95

6. Your Good Thing (Is About To End) – Mable John (2:52)
East Music*
Stax 192
Released May 19, 1966
Highest Chart Position: R&B #6 / Pop #95

7. I Got To Love Somebody’s Baby – Johnnie Taylor
East Music*
Stax 193
Released June 2, 1966
Highest Chart Position: R&B #15

8. I Want A Girl – Mad Lads
East Music*
Volt 137
Released June 16, 1966
Highest Chart Position: R&B #16

9. Knock On Wood – Eddie Floyd
East Music*
Stax 194
Released July 25, 1966
Highest Chart Position: R&B #1 / Pop #28

10. B-A-B-Y – Carla Thomas (2:49)
East Music*
Stax 195
Released July 27, 1966
Highest Chart Position: R&B #3 / Pop #85

11. My Sweet Potato – Booker T. & the MGs
East Music*
Stax 196
Released July 27, 1966
Highest Chart Position: R&B #18 / Pop #85

12. Booker-Loo – Booker T. & the MGs (2:25)
East Music*
Stax 196-B
Released July 27, 1966
Highest Chart Position: R&B #37

13. Oh, Pretty Woman – Albert King
East Music*
Stax 197
Released August 23, 1966

14. Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody – Sam & Dave
East-Pronto Music**
Stax 198
Released August 23, 1966
Highest Chart Position: R&B #8 / Pop #64

15. Never Like This Before – William Bell (2:48)
East Music*
Stax 199
Released September 6, 1966
Highest Chart Position: R&B #29

16. Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song) – Otis Redding (2:37)
East-Redwal-Time Music*
Volt 138
Released September 7, 1966
Highest Chart Position: R&B #41

17. Patch My Heart – Mad Lads
East Music*
Volt 139
Released September 19, 1966
Highest Chart Position: R&B #41

18. Sister’s Got A Boyfriend – Rufus Thomas
East Music*
Stax 200
Released September 26, 1966

19. Come To Me My Darling – Ruby Johnson
East Music*
Volt 140
Released October 19, 1966

20. When My Love Comes Down – Ruby Johnson (2:44)
East Music*
Volt 140-B
Released October 19, 1966

21. Try A Little Tenderness – Otis Redding (3:20)
Campbell-Connelly-Robbins Music***
Volt 141
Released November 14, 1966
Highest Chart Position: R&B #4 / Pop #25

22. Crosscut Saw – Albert King
Beckie Music*
Stax 201
Released November 14, 1966
Highest Chart Position: R&B #34

23. Little Bluebird – Johnnie Taylor
East Music*
Stax 202
Released November 14, 1966

24. Toe Hold – Johnnie Taylor
East Music*
Stax 202-B
Released November 14, 1966

25. Jingle Bells – Booker T. & the MGs
East Music*
Stax 203
Released November 16, 1966

Otis Redding had a great year in 1966. He had started it off with his cover of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction." In May he went Top 10 R&B again with the ballad "My Lover's Prayer" (stalling at #61 Pop). In September "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)" Continued his string, asserting its way to #12 R&B, #29 Pop. The latter was co-written with Steve Cropper, its title coming from Redding's habit of humming or singing horn lines using vocables (the second voice on the "fa-fa-fa-fa-fa" part is Stax songwriter David Porter).

Those horn lines had been an integral part of the sound of Stax and Volt virtually from the beginning. No one played a greater part than Redding in shaping the aesthetic of the label's horn lines. "Otis always had the hardest head arrangements," Floyd Newman recalled, shaking his head. "They were different and super djfficult. He'd always work his things out on the bus when he'd be travelling. He knew every line and every hole in every place. He knew where he was going on every song, what beats he wanted the lines to fall on. He could walk right in and sing it. There's not a lot of words on Otis's records but there are a lot of horn lines. James Brown did the same thing, but Otis's horn lines were entirely different from what James was doing. They were more difficult, rhythmically and harmonically. Otis always did things in keys like E, A and F sharp, the keys that nobody was playing in. The sharp keys are brilliant keys but people just don't mess around with them much. It gave his songs a lot of punch and drive and made you want to pop your fingers. He would always say, 'Floyd, if you listen to the song and your shoulders don't move, there's no groove to it.'''

"Try A Little Tenderness" just might be Redding's finest recording. It is certainly Jim Stewart's favorite. "Of all the things he ever did from the standpoint of the production, everything, the way it's laid out from the bottom to the top, it's the best thing he ever did;' asserts Stewart. "The drum part always killed me because [Al] Jackson was like a metronome how he changed the tempo. 1 defy any drummer to do that exactly the same. It's one of my favorite Stax records of all time. From beginning to end it's like the history of Stax is wrapped up in it."

The song has a long life. Written by Englishmen Reg Connelly and James Campbell and American Harry Woods, it was originally recorded in 1933 by Ted Lewis and His Band. In February they took it to the #6 position on the Variety listing of the best-selling records. A month later torch singer Ruth Fifing recorded the song, hitting #16 in Variety. Bing Crosby covered it in the mid-thirties and Frank Sinatra took a whack at it in 1945. Redding had learnt it from Sam Cooke's At The Copa album where Cooke had included two verses of it as part of a medley with "For Sentimental Reasons" and "You Send Me."

The latter explains why Redding only knew two verses of the lyrics. Such did not matter. With Otis, lyrics were nearly always mere vehicles for his vocal wizardry. He could make them up just as easily as he could read them off paper. In terms of lyrics and arrangement, he, for all intents and purposes, completely rewrote the Tin Pan Alley standard.

His manager, Phil Walden, felt that this was his greatest gift. "He had an unbelievable capacity to turn something totally around. A good example is 'Try A Little Tenderness.' This was when we were talking about career songs where he could be on the Ed Sullivan Show or playing the Copa. These things were terribly, terribly important. They were a sign of success. I remember he called me late at night and he said, 'You know that song that you've been on my ass about recording? I said, ‘Which one is that?’ He said, 'Try A Little Tenderness.' I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'I cut that. It's a brand-new song.' He could just turn stuff ... he could hear it in such a different way."

The arrangement was atypical of Stax, R&B or pop. Isaac Hayes was responsible for much of it, including the three-part contrapuntal horn line in the intro (inspired by the strings on Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come") and cymbal break at the climax (which Hayes later re-used in "Shaft"). The second section of the song featuring Al Jackson's quarter-beat tapping on the rim of the snare came about accidentally as the drummer idly tapped along while Redding was running down the tune.

"Al came up with the idea of breaking up the rhythm," recalled Booker T. Jones. "And Otis just took that and ran with it. He really got excited once he found out what Al was going to do on the drums. He realized how he could finish the song, that he could start it like a ballad and finish it full of emotion. That's how a lot of our arrangements would come together. Somebody would come up with something totally outrageous." Booker contributed the descending piano line bridging bars eight and nine of the verses and Gilbert Caples plays the saxophone commentaries. All four members of Booker T. And The MG's plus Isaac Hayes on organ and the Mar-Key horns play at their absolute finest, their interplay absolute nirvana. As with many Redding recordings, the highlight is the ad-lib section that takes up the final sixty seconds of the song. The net result was a #4 R&B record that stopped at #25 Pop.

Sam And Dave were also extraordinarily hot in this period. Their mid-summer hit, "Said I Wasn't Gonna Tell Nobody," was modelled on another traditional church song, "Said I Wasn't Gonna Tell Nobody But I Couldn't Keep It To Myself." The song had been attempted a number of times over the past year but it never quite jelled. Even this version makes neither Sam Moore nor David Porter very happy. The recording is basically a three-way dialogue between Al Jackson's tom-toms, Dunn's and Cropper's doubled bass and guitar and the Memphis Horns, coupled with dynamic organ flourishes. As it works its way to ecstasy, someone gets "happy" and starts clapping for a couple of beats as the second verse concludes. Sam And Dave got happy all the way to #8 R&B and #64 Pop.

There were two debut recordings released by Stax in April and May 1966. Blues guitarist Albert King had recorded for the Parrot, Bobbin, King and Countree labels going back to 1953. Estelle Axton takes credit for getting King signed to Stax. A writer from Indiana named Sandy Jones had brought in a blues song called "Laundromat Blues" that he hoped the label would use: "I had a time convincing Jim and them to do any blues," Estelle said shaking her head. "They didn't think blues would sell. I tried to convince him by showing him how many records I sold on these different artists like Little Milton, Bobby Blue Bland and Junior Parker."

Estelle had the song two or three months before Albert King himself walked into her Satellite Record Shop. She was aware of King through selling his records in the store. The two of them discussed the possibility of getting signed to Stax. "I said, 'Well it's gonna take a lot of convincing,'" laughed Estelle, '''cause we're doing R&B, we're not doing blues. But the first thing they're gonna tell you is if you've got a song they'll listen to you. It just so happens I've got one.' So I let him hear 'Laundromat Blues.'"

Estelle wrote out the words for King, not realizing that he could not read. Used to doing everything from memory he retained most of the song but, according to Estelle, he forgot the last verse which, of course, happened to be the best one.

The song is a classic story of infidelity at the laundromat. Fueled by King's liquid guitar leads and the rock-solid accompaniment of the Stax house musicians, it gave Albert King his first hit since 1961 and second ever national hit, reaching #29 on the R&B charts. King followed it in the summer with A.C. Williams's driving riff-based "Oh Pretty Woman." Nothing happened chart-wise, but November's issue of "Cross-cut Saw" scurried its way up the R&B charts to #34. The song had originally been produced by a man named Ford (who also took the writing credit) for a local Memphis band, the Johnnie Taylor Binghampton Blues Boys.

Former Sun pedal steel and bass player Stan Kesler negotiated to lease the record for issue on his XL label. After pressing up the initial copies, Ford became difficult to work with and Kesler found himself without a record. Someone at Stax was aware of the Binghampton Blues Boy recording and covered it on King virtually note for note. The result was one of the all-time blues classics.

Mable John was the other artist who debuted for Stax at this point. The sister of fifties star Little Willie John, Mable had been the first female artist signed and produced by Berry Gordy. Six forty-fives were issued by her on the Motown subsidiary Tamla. "I discovered that Motown was not going to be the record company that could cater to my type of singing," emphasized John. "I'm not really a pop singer."

Her manager, Chicago DJ Lucky Cordell, took her to Al Bell who signed her to Stax. When she first came into the studio and was paired with Hayes and Porter, she told them the story that became the basis for "Your Good Thing (Is About To End)." "I enjoyed the song," sighed Mable. "I enjoyed the relief it gave me because I was in bondage. I really felt that my first husband had given me a raw deal and I was carrying around a lot of bitterness that no one knew about. That song relieved that bitterness to a degree. It was like getting something off my chest."

Hayes and Porter had crafted a plaintive, aching ballad in "Your Good Thing (Is About To End)." Eddie Harrison, formerly of The Premiers, provides the backing vocal. The record provided John with her only national chart success. A #6 R&B and #95 Pop hit, two years later Lou Rawls covered it doing even better, settling in at #3 and # 18 respectively.

The same month that Mable John hit the charts for her one and only time, William Bell hit the national charts for the second time with his eighth Stax release, "Share What You Got (But Keep What You Need)." Written with Steve Cropper and David Porter, the record started Bell on what must be considered his golden period of 12 chart successes issued on Stax between 1966 and 1974. It was quite a start, as Bell's vocal and the song's arrangement are nearly too gorgeous for words.

The flip, a Cropper-Floyd composition, "Marching Off To War," is interesting in light of Bell having just got out of the Army and the undemocratic system of conscription in the United States at the time, which led to a highly disproportionate number of African Americans finding themselves in the service of Uncle Sam. It was briefly considered for A-side status before being ultimately relegated to the B-side.

Hayes, Porter and Booker T. Jones wrote Bell's next chart success. "Never Like This Before" was an uptempo barn burner, the antithesis of "Share What You Got." Bell says, "They were writing to get a heavier rhythmic sound for me." The result hit #29 on the R&B charts.

The team of Hayes, Porter and Booker T. also wrote Rufus Thomas's "Sister's Got A Boyfriend" in this period. The Thomas disc was one of his hardest-hitting grooves, sporting a great horn line over which Rufus sang one of his funniest lyrics ("Sister's got a boyfriend, papa's got a shotgun. If they ever get together, the boyfriend is gonna run"). Released in the fall of 1966, despite its strengths, it failed commercially.

Porter laments their inability to get Rufus a hit. "We were doing records on everybody else and it appeared that Rufus wanted something on him. We tried but we really couldn't groove it. No one could hit Rufus's grooves better than Rufus as far as writing stuff for him.”

Carla Thomas felt the same applied to her. By this point Jim Stewart had pretty well stopped her from writing and paired her with Hayes and Porter. The combination was successful, producing a #3 R&B and #14 Pop classic in "B-A-B-Y" in late 1966. Carla, though, hated the song. She feels that it was essentially a Sam And Dave outtake.

"'B-A-B-Y' was taking close to four hours to cut because it was sounding like 'Soul Man'; that was the structure of the song. [The rhythm was Sam And Dave], I said, 'I cannot sing that.' I went home and went to bed. I was so frustrated. They kept making me stand there and sing and I'm frustrated and tired."

The next day she came back to the studio and the song had been substantially modified by Booker T. Jones. "That whole thing was Booker's. When I came back it was totally softened up and had the organ." Whatever the initial conception, the new arrangement was superb, bouncing rhythmic piano against a quirky organ sound and Carla's breathy, seductive vocal. Her sister, Vanese, alongside David Porter, contributed the backing vocals because, in Porter's words, "she had that little youthful young sound." It was Porter's idea to use the initials in the lyrics although he credits Hayes with writing the lion's share of the song. The result was heaven on first hearing.

Hayes and Porter continued to write piano-based blues for Johnnie Taylor. In the summer, "I Got To Love Somebody's Baby" hit # 15 on the R&B listings. After writing and recording the song, Hayes and Porter were sure it was going to be a monster hit. Oddly, after two successes in a row with Taylor, their third effort, this time in tandem with Booker T. Jones, "Little Bluebird," didn't hit the charts at all. Yet "Little Bluebird" remains one of the most moving of Taylor's blues forays issued prior to his more R&B uptempo cheating songs that would become his main claim to fame in the seventies. The flip, the Hayes-Porter number "Toe Hold," is an uptempo dance groove.

Coming off the chart success of "Don't Have To Shop Around" and "I Want Someone," The Mad Lads' fourth Volt single, the Eddie Floyd-Al Bell authored "Sugar Sugar" (not the Archies' 1969 hit of the same title) was disappointing. Their fifth and sixth forty-fives, though, the group-written "I Want A Girl" and the Cropper-Hayes ode "Patch My Heart," would return them to the nation's airwaves. The former is the epitome of doo wop youthful innocence while the latter was a more typical Stax horn, keyboard and rhythm-dominated outing, admittedly with The Mad Lads' fine vocal harmonizing.

Eddie Floyd's second Stax forty-five proved to be his big one. By the time of "Knock On Wood" he and Steve Cropper were writing regularly together. Jim Stewart had suggested the combination and with Floyd writing the words and melody and Cropper taking care of the chord changes, the results were dynamite. Additionally, Isaac Hayes contributed the horn bridge. According to Floyd, the song was originally written with Otis Redding in mind, but Jim Stewart didn't like the idea (Cropper, though, doesn't remember it this way). Floyd explains how the lyric idea came about: "I was thinking about rabbit foots and stuff like that, the whole superstitious thing, not knowing that there is another 'Knock On Wood' in the film Casablanca." The chord pattern is that of Wilson Pickett's "Midnight Hour" (also written by Cropper and Floyd and cut at Stax), but in reverse.

Jim Stewart apparently didn't think much of the song but eventually, at Al Bell's behest, a few copies of Floyd's demo were pressed and distributed in Memphis and Bell and Floyd's former hometown, Washington. Jerry Wexler saw "hit" written all over it and Atlantic soon picked it up and distributed it nationally. Although it entered the charts in late August, its climb to the #1 R&B spot took some time (it also hit #28 Pop). It was only Stax's third #1 record (the first two being The MG's' "Green Onions" and Sam And Dave's "Hold On! I'm Comin"'). The second voice on the top is that of David Porter. He just happened to be passing through the studio while the song was being cut. Floyd said that he might have added more voices except he thought he was just cutting a demo. Al Jackson contributed the idea for the drum hook after "You gotta knock..." "He thought about Stepin Fetchit," exclaimed Floyd. "'Open The Door Richard' ... I said, 'Can you make it sound like you are knocking on a door?' He said, 'Yeah. Boom-boom-boom-boom-on wood. Yeah I got it.''' The rhythm of the intro was inspired by Floyd thinking of Native American tom-tom drumming.

Ruby Johnson's second Volt release was another Estelle Axton-Deanie Parker ballad inspired by their success with "I Want Someone." The B-side was an equally heart-wrenching blues essayed by Hayes and Porter entitled "When My Love Comes Down." Why this double dose of emotion received scant attention will forever remain a mystery.

In what was becoming a major change in emphasis at Stax/Volt, one finds only two instrumental records on volume six, both by erstwhile session musicians Booker T. And The MG's. The first, July's "My Sweet Potato" b/w "Booker-Loo" was a double-sided hit, the two sides hitting # 18 and 37 on the R&B charts. Neither saw much Pop action. The top side was a little different as Al Jackson played woodblock or claves throughout the record, while Booker played the melody on acoustic piano instead of the trademark MG organ. This was the beginning of a series of records by The MG's that would establish grooves that were fraught with tension and would serve as a basis to build climactic wave by climactic wave. The apotheosis of this approach was 1969's Top 10 hit, "Time Is Tight."

In the fall The MG's released a forty-five from their Christmas LP In The Christmas Spirit. The MG's' version of "Jingle Bells" complete with a bluesy guitar solo is the hippest version of the Christmas ode you are ever likely to hear.


*Irving Music, BMI Administered outside the US by Warner Tamerlane Publishing Corp.
**Pronto Music/Irving Music, BMI Administered by Warner Tamerlane Publishing Corp.
***EMI Music, ASCAP

For authenticity, producer and publisher credits are listed as they appeared on the original singles. Current Publishing information accompanies each individual volume. Prior to 1967, producer credits were not generally listed on single labels.
U.S. chart positions courtesy of Billboard


This compilation (P) & © 1001 Atlantic Recording Company for the United States and WEA International Inc., for the world outside of the United States.
Stax ® and Volt ® are registered trademarks of Fantasy, Inc.

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