Booker T. & the MGs - Stax Profiles (Selected by Elvis Costello)
Elvis Costello was a teenager when Booker T. & the MGs began hitting the British charts with their deceptively simple R&B instrumentals. The Memphis quartet’s most successful single in the U. K. was 1969’s “Time Is Tight,” with which Costello leads off this personal 15-track selection. Besides that tune and such other signature songs as “Hip Hug-Her,” “Hang ’Em High,” “Green Onions,” and “Boot-Leg” (the latter two presented here in live versions), the singer has picked numerous lesser-known nuggets. In his booklet notes, Costello offers insightful commentary on each performance. He observes, for instance, that on “Soul Clap ’69” (a hit in the UK only) Steve Cropper’s mellow guitar playing predicted the fade of the Beatles’ “Come Together” and drummer Al Jackson, Jr.’s beat was a blueprint for his later work with Al Green. Booker T. & the MGs were clearly ahead of their time, and their music remains utterly timeless.
Stax Records is synonymous with Southern soul music. Originally known as Satellite when it was founded in 1957 by Jim Stewart, the fledgling company set down roots in Memphis two years later and in 1961 changed its name to Stax, from the first two initials of Stewart’s last name and that of his sister and co-owner, Estelle Axton. Among the many artists who scored hits on Stax and its Volt subsidiary during the Sixties were Rufus and Carla Thomas, Booker T. & the MGs (an interracial instrumental quartet that also served as the company’s rhythm section), Johnnie Taylor, Albert King, and Otis Redding. Redding’s death in 1967 signaled the end of the first Stax era (to which Atlantic retains distribution rights). Subsequently the company spawned a new crop of hitmakers, among them Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, and the Dramatics. In June 1977, a year and a half after Stax went bankrupt, the company’s masters were purchased by Fantasy, Inc., which periodically revived the Stax and Volt logos for new recordings, in addition to reissuing older material. Stax / Volt became part of the Concord Music Group in 2004.