Quantcast

JIM STEWART,
1930-2022

Jim Stewart, the fiddle-playing banker who co-founded Stax Records, home to soul greats Otis Redding, Booker T. & the M.G.’s and Isaac Hayes, died on 12/5. He was 92.

The Stax Museum of American Soul Music reported that “Mr. Stewart died peacefully surrounded by his family and will be missed by millions of music fans around the world as one of the great pioneers of soul music and an architect of the Memphis Sound.”

The label also launched the careers of Sam & Dave, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Johnnie Taylor and William Bell, not to mention scores of one-hit wonders. During its second act, in the 1970s, it was the company behind The Staple Singers' secular hits and Hayes’ monumental Shaft soundtrack.

What Motown did for the musicians of Detroit in the 1960s, Stax did for Southern musicians, who made Memphis a hotbed of musical activity. At a time of intense segregation, Stewart opened his doors to people of all races but most importantly created an artistic home for youths in the neighborhood like Booker T. Jones, David Porter, Hayes and Bell.

Al Bell, Stax’s president/CEO in the 1970s, told Robert Gordon for his book Respect Yourself, “The spirit that came from Jim and his sister Estelle Axton allowed all of us, black and white, to come off the streets, where you had segregation and the negative attitude, and come into the doors of Stax, where you had freedom, you had harmony, you had people working together. It grew into what became really an oasis for all of us.”

Stewart created Satellite Records in 1957 and produced country music, following the path of nearby Sun Records, which recorded local artists and had breakout hits with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and others.

Seeing little success, Stewart in 1961 partnered with Estelle and changed the name of the company to Stax—representing the first two letters of their surnames. Over the next decade and a half, they released more than 800 singles and 300 albums, winning eight Grammy Awards along the way, plus an Oscar.

Stewart, who'd had plans to be a lawyer, set up shop in South Memphis at the former Capitol Theater and after three years of recording country and pop records, scored a regional R&B hit with “Cause I Love You” by Memphis DJ-singer Rufus Thomas and his teenage daughter Carla.

Atlantic RecordsJerry Wexler took noticed of the song and set up a distribution plan. The Thomases proceeded to score other hits, Carla with “Gee Whiz” and Rufus with “Walking the Dog.” Two instrumental hits followed—The Mar-Keys’ “Last Night” and “Green Onions” by Booker T. & the MG's—before Stax signed the man who'd become its flagship artist, Otis Redding.

Stewart signed Redding to the Stax subsidiary Volt in 1962 and enjoyed an immediate hit with “These Arms of Mine.” Redding had 21 singles enter the Top 30 of the R&B charts. His lone #1, at pop and R&B, was the posthumously released “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”

Five of Redding's studio albums rose to the Top 5 of the R&B charts and two to the Top 10 of the pop charts, the compilation The History of Otis Redding and the posthumous The Dock of the Bay.

Beginning with Redding’s death in a 1967 plane crash, Stax went through a period of devastation. Axton left and in 1968 the company split with Atlantic, losing its back catalog in the process. The pall cast by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. hung heavy over the South, especially in Memphis.

Stewart regrouped with new partners—Al Bell and Gulf & Western. They started with the unprecedented simultaneous release of 27 albums to announce Stax’s second coming; they called it “Soul Explosion.”

The company blossomed under the new regime, producing the WattStax concert and film in Los Angeles, releasing Hayes’ era-defining, Academy Award-winning “Theme From Shaft” and generating hits by the likes of Johnnie Taylor and The Staple Singers.

Bell bought Stewart out with backing from CBS Records, but by 1975, Stax nearly shut down due to extensive debt and tax issues. Stewart tried to help financially. Nonetheless, by 1976 the label was shuttered and Stewart was broke. The IRS seized his home in 1981, forcing him to sell his possessions at auction.

Stewart kept a low profile over the succeeding decades, though he did produce projects for several former Stax artists. In 2002 he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by guitarist Steve Cropper of Booker T. & the MG's and Sam Moore of Sam & Dave. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music opened in 2003, and Stewart's legacy was celebrated at an event there in 2018.

That night, Bell said, “All of us became a part of your dreams and visions… and we thank you for that, Jim Stewart. If you had not come along when you came along, our lives would have never been the same. Thank you and God bless you.”

GRAMMY PERFORMERS: WHO'S ON? WHAT'S UP?
The incremental rollout begins. (1/26a)
A TASTE OF RAINMAKERS:
JACK SUSSMAN
Nobody's got more experience in putting music on the tube. (1/25a)
RIHANNA, GAGA LEAD OSCAR SONG NOMS
David Byrne and Diane Warren have noms as well. (1/24a)
HIPGNOSIS NABS
BIEBER CATALOG
Merck's a belieber. (1/25a)
HITS' BLACK HISTORY MONTH SPECIAL: NOT EVERY WOMAN, BUT SEVERAL
Sisters doin' it for themselves (1/24a)
HIP-HOP AT 50
The astonishing first half-century of a world-rocking genre.
THE NEXT BIG PLAYER
in the catalog game is...
INDIE BREAKOUTS
More independent music rises at the DSPs.
THE GOP CONGRESS
At last, America can focus 24/7 on Hunter Biden's laptop.
 Email

 First Name

 Last Name

 Company

 Country
CAPTCHA code
Captcha: (type the characters above)