The Story Begins
in late May of 1969, I was the staff keyboard player at STAX
Records. In those days, I was called "Sandy", which was my middle
I went to Memphis specifically to ask for work at
STAX, which, in my heart, was the best record company producing
the best music anywhere on the planet.
I played Hammond organ with the Soul Survivors, one of whom ridiculed my total
obsession with STAX music.
One day, on the way to rehearsal in New York
City, I made a spur of the moment decision to quit the Soul Survivors.
I had a suitcase with a few day's worth of clothes and
money in my pocket.
I got on the next plane to Memphis, that same
On that day, I knew just one thing: 926 McLemore
Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee.
That's what was printed on all my STAX
records. That's all I felt I needed to know.
believe the plane probably stopped at every airport between New York and
Memphis. I arrived in Memphis at about 3am, and took a taxicab to 926 McLemore Avenue, where I
could see the dark STAX building in the night mist. The streetlight had a
halo around it, and no marquee lights were on. I can still remember the
goose bumps on my arms.
That taxi driver must have thought I was
crazy, standing in the street, looking at a dark building in the middle of the
night, talking to myself.
I asked him to bring me to the closest motel -
that was the Holiday Inn on 3rd Street,
about a mile away from STAX.
About 10 the
next morning when I arrived at STAX with my suitcase in hand, I wasn't allowed
to go inside immediately, because I had no specific appointment. After I
explained I was here to ask for a job, and I'd flown down (all night) from New
York, Sam Tatum, who was the security guard, kindly allowed me to wait in the lavender and purple reception lobby.
about an hour, Al Jackson arrived. He looked at me (and my suitcase) kind of strangely, and asked, "Hey,
baby - don't I know you?"
I introduced myself, told him I was a Hammond player and
I quit the Soul Survivors yesterday.
He said, "Yeah! C'mon, man!", and brought me in the
back to the studio with him.
Buzzed through the door by the receptionist, the
lavender carpeting instantly changed to deep, deep green. I'd never seen
such a clash in my life, until we walked down the hall, and the carpeting
suddenly changed to bright red! The color scheme at STAX was shocking.
I suppose my excitement was obvious, that's
understatement. Duck Dunn and Steve Cropper arrived about noon, and I
just hung around,
sitting in the studio, or quietly following them into the control room, looking,
listening, and waiting for a chance to let somebody know - I wanted to play. My suitcase was parked right next to the Hammond.
About 1pm, Booker arrived, and I nearly fainted.
I actually had to go sit down. I'm lucky he disappeared as quickly as he
did, or I think I really would have fainted.
chance in a lifetime came just a little later that day. Duck had gone out
of the studio. Al asked me if I wanted a soda. He got some sodas,
then talked to Steve about the song "Expressway", which the MGs did as an instrumental. We were in the studio, at the piano bench,
drinking sodas, and Duck came back in.
Within a minute, I was talking with Al, Duck, and Steve about wanting to play at STAX - and ONLY at
STAX - and they listened to what I had to
say. I played piano and Hammond for them, heads were nodding, smiles were
on our faces, eye contact, and we talked some more.
Then some more Hammond, and more talk. I was astounded that Al and
Steve and Duck really liked my playing - I was astounded that they even listened to me!
Being astounded was
nothing - I was going to be there
the next day!
I was told I'd be playing on a session tomorrow morning!
It was just about that loose and laid back. Al,
Duck, and Steve said, "See you tomorrow, Sandy!",
then they just disappeared somewhere, out the studio door. There was no
question in my mind what that meant. I didn't know where they went, but I
was pretty sure what they were talking about.
I played more piano, played Hammond some more, and my mind was
racing. I was talking to myself and talking to the Hammond -
at the same time.
I also knew I had a minor crisis
on my hands. I had very little time to work: I had to become a
session player, and stop thinking of music as if I was in a group, on
a stage, playing for a crowd of people. I remember this very clearly: playing, reprimanding, lecturing myself for playing too much, for playing stretched out 5
note chords when 3 notes would be better, for playing low octaves with my left
hand - that was Duck's range, not mine. I had to readjust my
mind, and I had to do it fast. If I ever needed a
tranquilizer in my life, that was the time.
By about 5pm, my
heroes had gone home, and nobody had chased me out of the building. I can
remember the adrenaline, the amazement, the excitement, even now, close to 30 years later. I was on the
border of complete overload - I was in Heaven without having to die!
I got my chance
That night (and for the next three or four nights), I slept on the sofa in the conference
room at STAX. I drank sodas and ate junk food from the vending machines,
and took showers in the men's room stall shower. I had to move the mop
bucket out of the way to take a shower. My suitcase stayed under the
conference room sofa, it was a perfect fit. I probably played the Hammond
every hour of the day and night when studio A wasn't in use.
The next day, I played my first session at STAX, and I'm
not positive whose session it was, but I believe it was for the Mad Lads.
I'm sure Al was the producer. I clearly remember I played only Hammond, no piano
parts, and we cut three songs - no overdubs.
At that time, Henry Bush was the maintenance man, and he found out by the second
night that I was staying in the conference room. He was there later than
anybody else, and caught me wandering around at night after everyone had
left the building. He
didn't throw me out, and I remember Henry sitting in the studio,
listening to me play, snapping his fingers, encouraging and complimenting me.
I also remember I was going through a complete transformation: I had been
playing live shows for so long, I recognized the need to play less, so I could
fit into the simple rhythm tracks at STAX.
the first few days, I met a lot of people at STAX, and had a chance to "sing my song"
to anyone and everyone that would listen. My "song" mainly consisted of
how excited I was to be at STAX, I would never go back to New York again, and
STAX was the greatest record company in the
world! I think some of the STAX people were surprised that I felt so much
admiration and love for STAX.
When I first met David Porter, I was
very confused, and somehow thought he was Dave Prater, from Sam and
Dave. I know I made a complete idiot of myself plenty of times - so many
things were confusing at first.
Another thrill happened during
those first few days. One night, maybe 8pm, Jim Stewart called down from
the hall door - about 100' away - into a
dark A studio where I was playing Hammond, and mistook me for Booker. At that point, I hadn't met Jim
Stewart yet, and I didn't even know he was the President of STAX Records!
Henry was there, he told me who he was, and I was speechless! I recognized the name
"Jim Stewart" from my album covers, but I thought he was a producer and an
engineer - I didn't realize he was the President of STAX!
That actually happened
many times - people would call "Booker" into a dark studio, and I'd respond, "It's
Sandy." I'm not sure how much sleep I got in the conference room, but it
probably wasn't very much. I would walk around STAX late at night,
thinking, "Holy Jesus! Otis Redding walked here!" I
played tapes I found in the conference room on the old Ampex and McIntosh built into the wall
in there. I knew where the Hammond was, the vending machines, and the
bathroom. I didn't need much more than that. I realize that sounds
totally crazy, but I'm telling it like it WAS. I was 19, a
child in many ways, running on nothing but pure soul. For me, at that time,
this was the
epitome of what life really meant. I was trying to live my dreams.
you possibly can, try to imagine how a little kid might feel, if he suddenly found
himself really, actually standing in Santa Claus' house. Now
multiply that feeling by ten thousand.
Within three or four days, I'd
played about 3 sessions. Steve made an appointment, and I was sent to Jim Stewart's office
to ask him for a
job. To illustrate how little I knew, I didn't even know where Jim
Stewart's office was - I had to be told. (It was right near the
reception lobby, at the bend in the hall, the first door where the carpet was
green.) Judy Williams was his secretary then, and she gave me some good
advice before I saw him. I recall tying up my ponytail a lot
neater and pushing it into the back of my shirt. I was careful to keep my
when he was talking, and I did not use any profanity.
being a little nervous. I called him "Mr. Stewart" and "Sir" several
times, and he told me to relax, have a seat, he offered me a soda, and told me
to call him Jim. He asked me about myself, and I told him about running
away from home when I was almost 14 to play in an R&B group, how we played mostly
STAX music, how and why I left New York to come to Memphis. I told him how much I wanted to play,
but I would sweep the floors if that's what I had to do, because all I wanted
was to work at STAX, and have STAX music in my life. I didn't want to work
with or for anybody else. No other record company was good enough
for me. Not only did I say that, I really, truly believed
I remember Jim being somewhat
"businesslike", but what's stayed with me for all these years is that he was so
gracious, down to earth, and seemed very interested in me as a person, a
musician, and interested in my life. Not a word was spoken about it, but I think he
also knew I was staying in the conference room.
It's amazing to think back on how idealistic and arrogant a
19 year old could be.
was young and naive, I certainly didn't know the ins-and-outs of
yet, but I sure knew what I wanted.
(As I write this, I'm
also remembering that, before going to Memphis, I was living right in New York City,
and never had any interest in going to Atlantic for session work.)
After we talked for awhile, Jim made a phone call, and instructed the Holiday Inn to charge my room, meals, cleaning, phone calls,
and other incidentals to STAX.
He explained this
would be an audition period for me, which would last at least several weeks, possibly
a month or more. STAX would pay for the sessions I played, pay my expenses, and I was
even offered the use of a company car.
I must have been
dreaming - this couldn't really be happening
audition period, I played on many sessions, almost all with the MGs. I recall that for the first few sessions, I was recorded on
my own track, and really isolated, so I could be erased later, if necessary,
without losing any other instruments. Nobody said that out loud, but as
time went on, I interpreted it as I began to learn how the sound baffles were
After a few weeks of sessions, I
was told by either Al or Steve that I had to join the Musician's Union. I was sent to see Bob Taylor at Local 71, because I had to be a
musician to "legally" play on STAX sessions.
I didn't even know
that, because my previous checks were given to me in the Accounting department, and
I was allowed to cash them right there in the office. If I recall
correctly, the lady in Accounting office was also named "Sandy". I thought that's how it was
normally done by everyone.
Raymond brought me to the Union office, and I joined the Musician's Union the same day.
Bob Taylor allowed me to pay my initiation fees on the "starving musician payment
plan". Bob also became a very good friend to me. Besides being
the Vice President of the Union (later President), Bob also played trumpet on
many huge Elvis Presley records, and a lot of other hit records. I don't
ever remember him playing horn at STAX, but he came there frequently.
There were so many
things I didn't know or understand at that time. I knew nothing at all
about the STAX-Atlantic distribution problems, company changes, or the sale of
STAX. Initially, I didn't know Jim Stewart was the President of STAX, and
I had no idea where the name "ST-AX" even came from. I didn't meet
Estelle Axton for probably three months or more. I was completely ignorant
of millions of other things, too.
I knew for sure that I loved the
music that was created there, and I wanted to play a part in it,
too. I knew the keyboard parts on nearly every STAX/Volt record, and I
knew that this "feel" was what I should be playing - nothing else.
In 1969, I don't think I really knew what the word "destiny" meant.
Within three or four weeks, Steve brought me into Jim Stewart's office before a
session got started. At
first, Steve didn't say anything to me, except that we were going to see Jim.
I thought I was going to be told to leave. I had a nervous, sinking feeling for a few minutes,
hoping I hadn't done something wrong and blown my chance. Then the news:
had officially passed my audition, and I was ON STAFF
Jim and Steve were very calm, but I wasn't. They shook my hand (it
was already shaking), and welcomed me to the STAX family.
I was put on a weekly salary plus my session pay, and they
explained my responsibility. It was just like a "real job" - I
was instructed to be at STAX Monday through
Friday, from about 10 or 11am to about 6pm. Occasionally, sessions might
be called on the weekends, too, or sometimes, they might run later into the
night. Being on staff meant anyone
could call me to play, not just the MGs. I was so damn excited, I nearly wet my pants.
that time, I caught rides to the Holiday Inn and the Musician's Union
from Duck, Homer, Raymond, Al, Ronnie Capone, Steve, and several other STAX people. Sometimes I
walked to the Holiday Inn, sometimes I took a bus. Same thing in the
mornings. I got a lot of strange, probably unfriendly, looks walking down McLemore Avenue to
Third or College, but - like so many millions of other things at that time - I was totally unaware of
the racial tension still remaining in Memphis, following the assassination of Dr.
Martin Luther King. Months later, I learned it wasn't a very good idea for
a white, ponytailed hippie to be walking on McLemore Avenue before or after
In these "early days", I
didn't know anybody in Memphis, except the people I'd just met at STAX.
The weekends were hard to cope with, so I spent them practicing Hammond organ,
piano, clavinet, and Wurlitzer electric whenever I could. There was
usually somebody at STAX on the weekends, and I'd spend hours, or the entire
day, practicing. I was alone in Memphis, about 1000 miles away from my
last home and everyone I knew. I had no car, (actually, I had no drivers
license either, which is why I
wouldn't use the car STAX offered), was living out of (now) two suitcases, eating junk food all
day, and if I got lucky, and got there before the kitchen closed, maybe Holiday Inn food at night.
I was chasing my dreams
I was working at
STAX Record Company
awhile, Jim let me know that I should rent my own place soon. Judy, the production secretary, helped me find an affordable
furnished apartment not too far from STAX, and even helped me with the bus line
I had to take.
The time frame was somewhere
around five or six weeks before I had a real, staff job, and about two or three weeks later, when I rented my first place in Memphis. I certainly was glad to
get out of the Holiday Inn, even if my first apartment was a dump!
That part was insignificant - I was never in the apartment anyway, except to
sleep, shower, and change clothes. I was always at STAX.
first complete (non-stop) album I recorded was Mitch Ryder's "Detroit-Memphis
Experiment". It was done in four days. Steve produced that, and I still love it today. That was an unusual project, because Mitch
wasn't a STAX
artist. I believe his album was part of the agreement between STAX and
Paramount Pictures (Gulf and Western), who had recently bought STAX. When
I listen to the tracks, I can easily hear that I was a little nervous, wanting
to play the right thing, and be accepted. At least, that's my
interpretation of my playing, although others have commented differently.
One of the tracks, "Sugar Bee", was cut on the first take! I still have
the 1/4" rough mix tapes, where Ronnie's voice calls out "Sugar Bee-Take One!".
Jackson was a really good friend to me. He took me to Lansky's on Beale Street
soon after moving to Memphis. I bought a pair of really wild blue check,
flared bell bottoms there. When I wore them to STAX, Isaac Hayes was
wearing the same ones that day.
Jackson was always very nice to me, frequently dropping me off at home after
sessions. He lived nearby, on Central Ave. I guess he felt sorry for
me, because I hadn't bought a car yet, and probably would have gotten lost even if I had
one. I don't understand why, but I regularly got completely mixed up and
lost in Memphis. I remember once when Ronnie Capone and I went to Al's
house after work for a drink, and Al took Polaroid pictures. Ronnie had
some editing tape stuck on the bottom of his shoe. It showed up in some of
the pictures, and the joke was that he never stopped - he even brought STAX home with him at
certainly didn't last long enough, but for a while, Steve was the main producer
at STAX. He called sessions just about every week. Raymond played
guitar on some of those sessions, too. Later on, when Homer and Raymond
and Bettye (We Three) got very active recording their own artists and songs, I did
virtually all of their sessions. I think they really liked my playing, and
I spent a lot of time inside and outside of STAX with Raymond, going over ideas,
changes, and just playing for the fun of playing. By then, I'd gotten
settled in Memphis, and had a "rent-to-buy" piano at my apartment.
Raymond really encouraged me to play a little more "experimentally" with
Wurlitzer electric piano, and especially, with clavinet parts. I used a wah
wah pedal for the first time in my life with a clavinet. He was one super guitar
player too, and a fantastic guy.
He bought me my first shoulder holster,
just like his. Wayne Jackson signed for my first .38 pistol, because I was
a gun was a big thing at STAX back then. I'd heard stories about a
kidnapping, and some STAX people were held up and robbed right outside on the
remember Raymond's canary yellow Cadillac with the black roof, Al Jackson's blue Mark
III, and Steve's silver purple Buick Riviera - it had a "rolling"
speedometer, like a horizontal tube. I think Steve had a gold
Mark III, too. Cars were a big thing at STAX in 1969! Limos
and luxury cars all over the place. Duck had a custom yellow Excalibur
for awhile, but Isaac had everybody beat with his customized
Super Fly Cadillac with all the gold plating and fur interior. The parking
lot behind STAX was probably worth $10 million. I'm almost positive Booker had
a conservative black Buick.
of the sessions at STAX "floated" .... Songs might have been cut for
one artist, but ended up with another. One example is "Slum
Baby", which Homer, Bettye, and Raymond wrote. I remember that song had lyrics,
but I can't recall them. I played Wurlitzer electric piano on that
session - months later it ended up being a Booker T & the MGs single release.
Sometimes, I was not given credit or acknowledgment for my playing, or
contributions to writing. I'm not really complaining, yet I'd like
to be credited with what I did. I guess anybody would.
I recall a big disagreement with
Freddy Briggs over a song which I wrote with Margie Joseph, but he took writer's
credit. Margie came into the studio and asked me to help her with a song.
She had the lyrics, and needed the chord structure for the song. We worked
it out in about an hour or two, Gordon recorded the piano and voice on a 7.5
tape, and I was under the impression that I wrote half the song. I still
have the original voice/piano tape.
My complaints aside, I have to say that I always got paid - on
time - for the sessions I cut. STAX Records was the best in the world for
that. I haven't ever worked for anybody, anywhere, that was so
meticulous about paying their musicians on time.
When Steve left to open TMI, STAX
really changed. I frequently started to do
sessions outside of STAX. I didn't have an exclusive
agreement at STAX, but I was on staff there. Regardless of any outside
work, I was always available to "STAX first", no
questions. I worked quite a bit at Fame in Memphis, and most of the
other studios around town, doing sessions here and there as they were
available. But my heart always belonged to the STAX sound. It always
a few rare occasions when he was in the building, Booker taught me. I recall learning a verse from "Hang Em High",
and seeing for myself that it could only possibly be played in that one
way - left and right hands, an octave apart on the upper manual. I'd never known that until
he showed me. Booker was a very quiet, dignified, polite gentleman.
One of the things I remember is how much I wanted to get to
know Booker. I wanted to play music with him, I wanted him to teach me to
play better. But it was difficult because he was around so infrequently. That
was a disappointment to me. Several times, I'd sit quietly in his
office, watching him at his desk writing string charts - directly from his head
to the paper, not even referring to the piano to try out the lines or
harmonies. That totally amazed me. Booker was, and still is today, a
rare combination of a schooled, educated musician, and also a "feel"
player that can get down into a groove effortlessly. If this sounds
like a case of hero worship, maybe that's because it is.
Later, as time went
along, I was allowed to listen to master tapes, alone, in the evening. I'd solo
Booker's tracks so I could study them even more. You can believe I spent
many, many hours absorbing Booker's style of playing.
lots of weekends, I went out by Steve's property near Germantown with Eddie
Floyd ("Greentree", as everybody called him), and his
buddy/valet/chauffeur, "Castro" (Henry Hoskins). We'd fish in a
little lake out there, or walk around shooting blue jays or quail. It must
have been an interesting sight to those country folks to see a couple of black
men, and a white hippie looking guy with a ponytail, riding around in a long
blue Cadillac limousine, stopping at a country store to buy worms or shotgun
shells. And naturally, Eddie looked like he just stepped out of an L.L.
Bean catalog - Eddie dressed! One crazy thing I remember is
Eddie letting me call some old musician friends in New York from his mobile
telephone in the limo. That was in 1969 - about 20 years before cellular
phones were invented. You had to dial a ship-to-shore operator back then. He got on the phone, and they didn't believe it was
really Eddie. Some people just won't listen.
At about the time I was put on
staff, Raymond Jackson brought me over to see Joe Harwell, and I opened a
bank account at Union Planters Bank, on Bellevue. STAX, and most everybody
from STAX, had their accounts there.
This is where I met the real love of my
life - Rebecca, my future wife. I actually met Rebecca for the first time in Eddie's limo.
To make it easier for Eddie, Castro drove into the drive in teller the
wrong way at Union Planter's Bank - that would put Eddie right near the
teller's window, without having to lean across me. Rebecca, who worked at the bank, gave us a lecture for going in there
the wrong way .... I still hear about that, even today. And
Rebecca still adores STAX music just as much as I do.
I didn't have the
courage to ask her for a date that day, but I did a few weeks later, when
I went inside the bank and had a few minutes to talk with her. Even
though I'd played on the road for years, I didn't know how to ask a girl for a
date. I know one thing: I was 19, and Rebecca was the first and only
girl I ever asked for a date. That was October 3, 1969.
Can you guess what we did on our first
date? Dinner? A movie? Dancing? No - I invited Rebecca
to come to STAX to listen to a recording session. She sat on the piano bench with
me while we cut tracks and did overdubs! I
was instantaneous love. On October 5th, we moved in together, and then
rented a beautiful townhouse in December.
After 34 wonderful, loving years together,
Rebecca died of lung cancer on August 21,
She was not quite 56 years old.
Rebecca's Memorial pages were written immediately following her death.
Raymond brought us to a
furniture store in Memphis, and with no more than his "say so", I had
enough instant credit to buy thousands of dollars of furniture for the townhouse
we rented. "You work at STAX?" Presto! Credit!
Just like that. In retrospect, I'm totally amazed - we picked
out furniture, and I just signed a paper. The next day, all the furniture
They gave me a coupon book, and I just mailed a check every month.
I wish I still had that super king size bed with the tufted velvet headboard and
matching tufted velvet bench. It was exactly like Raymond's, but ours was blue and
Raymond's was purple. Homer (known as "Brew") had one, and Al
Jackson did, too.
also remember Johnny Baylor and Dino Woodard. I had some run-ins with Dino. I believe he deeply resented white
people, or maybe it was just me. Actually, I think he hated me - why, I
don't have a clue. Since my hair was long, I had a beard, an
earring, and it was 1969, I suppose I was considered a "hippie" by
some. Whatever the case may be, Dino took pleasure in regularly ordering me around,
telling me I couldn't lean on Judy's desk, etc. He was a very
confrontational person. One day, we had some words, he hit me in the head
with a gun, and I bled all over the carpeting in STAX's hallway. He was
pretty well known for hitting people with guns - it was his sport. Deanie and David came to
the rescue, but it was a really traumatic day, and required a trip to the
doctor. Johnny Baylor never
gave me a problem, and I remember him being a very nice guy to me. But I
suppose we were never in a situation where we might disagree on anything.
There was a whole lot of tension in the building whenever those two guys were
around, though. I think they were really part of Isaac's
"faction", where I was more part of Steve's and Raymond's. STAX
was sort of "divided" in some ways, but I never understood the how and
why until a lot later.
Steve left, STAX used some other rhythm players. Cornell McFadden played
drums, Jerry Norris played bass, Raymond Jackson did most of the guitar
work. Duck and Al still played on many sessions, but things were
definitely changing. I recall doing a couple of sessions with Bobby Manuel playing
guitar, I think they were probably Raymond's and Homer's sessions. I did plenty of sessions with this
"second" rhythm section, and plenty more with the BarKays.
early when I first went to STAX, Allen Jones and I talked about joining the BarKays. I declined - I
couldn't do the traveling, and stay on
staff at the same time. At that time, Ronnie Gorden was playing organ with
them and also worked in STAX's art department. He wasn't much of a
keyboard player. The BarKays had him restricted to playing mainly 2/4 chord
punch parts. I sat in with them several times at
club gigs in Memphis, and really enjoyed it. They eventually found a
very good keyboard player, I believe his name was Winston.
did Albert King's tracks in B studio with James Alexander, Willie Hall,
and Michael Toles. Those were the very first sessions cut in B
studio - it was recently built, and was actually still under
construction. Albert bitched at all of us because we were too young to
understand the blues. The air conditioning didn't work yet in the studio,
and it must have been 100 degrees in there. B studio was just a fraction
of the size of A, so it really got hot in there - quick. When the
session started, Albert was wearing a beautiful pastel suit, matching hat, tie, vest,
shoes, handkerchief, everything. He progressively took off
almost all of his clothes, and ending up sweating rivers in his underwear and
socks. It's amazing how fast you can get the blues when you're
sweating like that! Listening to playback meant we had to climb all
the way up those narrow metal stairs to the control room - with Albert hardly
wearing anything - and that was a sight to
see! Albert was pretty funny too, sometimes. He'd start a song in
one key, run it down, and we'd learn it with him. Then he'd tell
you it was in some other key. (He tuned his guitar differently - probably in F# or
STAX had annual Christmas parties at the Rivermont hotel, and
one year, Albert dressed in a formal white tuxedo, tails, top hat, cane, the
whole works. He danced with Rebecca, my sweetheart from the bank, and
you couldn't even see her - she just seemed to disappear - it
looked like Albert was dancing alone. He was a huge man!
And Rebecca was a tiny woman!
never saw drugs or alcohol in STAX, except maybe a bottle of scotch in
somebody's desk drawer. In those days, I guess everybody tried smoking
pot, but you never saw that or smelled it anyplace in or around STAX. And
nobody ever seemed to want to drink alcohol in the studio either, except for
some really rare occasions. I played at several other studios in Memphis,
and in some, we never even got started unless everybody dove into a case of beer
and a few joints first.
The atmosphere at STAX was a lot more
"businesslike", but it was also loose, friendly, and a lot of
fun. Everybody at STAX was almost always cheerful, happy, and
enthusiastic. I remember a constant ongoing excitement in the air there. It
was like everybody was looking forward to the next hit record. Let's say
you saw 30 people in the production department in one day - all 30 of them were
smiling and happy. In those early days, STAX was a happy place. It's no
surprise that the best music in the world was cut in that building.
Another thing I remember - nearly all the sessions were cut in the
daytime or early evening. STAX was like a ..... business. Like a regular job!
I think everyone at STAX respected that atmosphere, and also refrained from some
of the things they might do after working hours, or away from STAX.
I remember smoking pot with a few STAX people, but we drove away from the
really crazy thing I remember is when STAX put in the WATS lines on the
phones. I learned that all you had to do was dial #83 or #86 from any
phone, and you could make long distance calls! I constantly called some
old musician friends from STAX. I still feel a little guilty for
using the phones so much.
was there when Gordon Rudd started engineering at STAX, and also when David
Purple started. I went to many of Ronnie Capone's Saturday engineering classes, and was
very interested in learning more about the technical side of recording music
onto tape. Henry Bush and William Brown from the Mad Lads were real active
in those classes, too, and both became exceptionally good engineers. I'm
pretty sure they are both still engineering in Memphis today. Steve also
taught me a lot about engineering, tape, recording, mics, and anything
associated. I never
stopped asking him questions. I bet he spent an hour one morning showing me how tape slapback worked,
and taught me how to edit tape.
I first went to STAX, Duck and Al had their offices in the little hallway
leading into what would become the B studio, but one was converted to an editing room, and the
other was suddenly expanded into a big room, I think for engineering and
additional tape storage. STAX was an architectural nightmare.
Offices and walls could - and they did - just spring up or disappear overnight.
That's how things could happen at STAX - on Friday an office - on Monday, a
complete editing room. About the time that David Purple got there, they
also got a mastering lathe.
nights, Gordon and I would sit in the control room and listen to the original 4
track masters of the STAX tours in Europe and lots of other old masters. The tape library was between
the A and B control rooms - a couple steel steps up from A, a couple
wooden steps down
from B. There were literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of boxes of
4 and 8 track masters in
there, with shelves from floor to ceiling, an entire world
of soul. We could just grab a few boxes, go into either control room, and
get as much soul as a human could possibly stand. As loud as we wanted,
too! And we could do the mix: more vocals, more horns, whatever. I could have run off some quarter inch copies, but I never even
thought of it. I think back then, we all believed things would never end -
they'd be there forever. Some of those tapes were awesome.
The B control room was really pretty small and cramped, so A was the
choice. Plus, it had this old, worn out, brown leather sofa in front of
the console. That might have been the most comfortable sofa in the
remember when they got the new Auditronics (SpectraSonics) console in the A
studio, and also the 3M-56 16 track. Auditronics, a Memphis company, was
owned by Welton Jetton, who built several of the better studios in Memphis.
I recall him being a very nice, patient man when I went there to visit, watch,
and learn. I never stopped asking questions, I wanted to learn everything
I remember helping Ronnie, Raymond,
and Gordon carry in a new EMT plate reverb unit to the room under the B control
room. That's where STAX's famous live echo chamber was located. If I
remember right, it was just a cinderblock room with a door, and had no parallel
walls. Inside were a speaker and a microphone, and sometimes, a few
crickets. One STAX story I recall was that somebody went into the echo
chamber, and fired a couple rounds from a gun, because the crickets in the echo
return drove him crazy while he was trying to mix. I'm pretty sure you can
hear crickets on some older STAX recordings, if you're really listening carefully.
I'm thinking of the echo chamber, I remember something else that happened the
same day we moved the EMT unit in. This was on a Saturday, when very
few production people were in the building, and the building was nearly empty.
Raymond and I found a big sheet of clear plexiglass
down there. For some reason, I picked it up, and leaned on
it. It bent, kind of "bowed out" away from me, and made a sort
of "whoomp" sound. Raymond's eyes lit up and so
We brought it
into the A studio, and I "played" it. Gordon engineered the
overdub - he thought we were completely crazy, and couldn't stop
laughing. Listen to Shack, "Too Many Lovers", it's used in the
intro and in the middle. I think we used it on a Chuck Brooks song,
too. Raymond swore us to secrecy - he wanted to keep this "new
sound" to himself, so we hid it under the B control room again.
also remember cutting a lot of percussion parts: vibes, maracas,
tambourine, wood block, cowbell, etc.
remember when STAX changed over to the JBL monitors in the control rooms and
studios. The company sold those huge Seeburgs to anybody who wanted
them. They had 2 15 inch speakers, the old Altec cast horn, and the
cabinet was double thickness wood. They must have weighed over 200 pounds
each. Raymond helped me get them home in his Cadillac.
I was so proud of them - Steve had an identical pair in his music room, with a whole
wall full of Marantz and Revox equipment, built into a beautiful custom made
wall cabinet. So, of course I had to copy him. I bought the
Seeburgs, and bought some Marantz and Revox components, too. Then I tried
to emulate him by building a kind of "console" to flush mount the
stereo components into. I did my best, but it really wasn't much to look
Steve smoked Winstons back then, can you guess what brand I switched
times, on weekends especially, I'd go over to Steve's house on South
Angela. Being the 19 year old, inconsiderate, no-manners idiot that I was,
I wouldn't wait for an invitation - I'd invite myself. I'd just
barge right in, and interrupt whatever he was doing. Breakfast, family
time, whatever. I'm lucky he didn't kick my ass for me. I remember
shooting pool with him in his brand new "office" next to the house, and
being beaten thoroughly. (I'm not too sure he could beat me quite that
easily today, though!) He had a "Green Onions" doorbell that played
chimes of the first few notes of Green Onions. Undoubtedly, if I had known
where he got it, I'm sure I would have gotten one, too. This probably
sounds crazy, but it was very easy to emulate the people I'd met at STAX.
had some very interesting promotional things. They gave a lot of stuff
away. When they had that big album promotion, I bought almost all of the
albums for $1 each. I remember getting an entire armload of them from
John Williams in the mail room, and the next day, I bought even more, and had John
mail them to some old music friends up north.
Another thing that I really
remember was a watch with the STAX logo on the face. It had a clear
polarized disc instead of a second hand, and the logo would fade in and out of sight as
the disc turned. It was absolutely awesome - I just loved it! I'd do anything to find
that watch today. I still have a walnut "We Three" coaster
with the "Who's Making Love" gold record on it, too.
are a few tracks I cut. I have a whole collection, literally hundreds, of other tracks, most on
1/4" tape, including some that I feel pretty sure nobody has ever heard
before. (Would you believe "Piece Of My Heart" - Mavis Staples
and Eddie Floyd?) Sadly, I no longer have the equipment to create mp3s of
all those tapes. Even sadder, time has deteriorated those old original
tapes since 1972.
Booker T & MGs
Ollie & Nightingales
Myself For The Fall
Chris and Shack
Is Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down
Good To Be Careful
You See What You're Doing To Me
Up In Love Again
Rhythm sections: M: Al
Jackson, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn A: Alternate section * B: BarKays
* Alternate rhythm section :
Cornell McFadden, drums - Jerry Norris, bass - Raymond
Jackson, guitar, sometimes one or more MGs played on these sessions
I Did On My STAX Vacation
year, STAX closed for a company vacation. If I remember right, this lasted
for about 4 weeks. I don't think that the building was locked up and
closed, but basically, music production, meaning session work, stopped for the
vacation. I think the office people still came to work, just not
the people in the production department.
my first year at STAX, just a few weeks before the vacation, Rufus Thomas was
giving away a handful of tickets for the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. I'd
never heard of Ike and Tina Turner at that time, but everybody in the company
was saying they were really awesome, and did an incredible live show. So I
asked for two tickets, and went to see the Ike and Tina Turner Revue with
Rebecca, my love from the bank. They were playing at Club Paradise, which
I think was once a bowling alley, complete with the low ceiling. It was
pretty large, seating a thousand or more people. If you can picture this,
there was row after row after row of long tables, placed end to end, covered in
white tablecloths. And folding metal chairs. You were sitting next
to and right across from total strangers. Half the people faced the
stage, the other half had their backs to the stage. This seemed a
little unusual to me at first, but all the people at our table were very
cool. By about 9pm, the place was packed full, and I'm glad Rebecca and I
got our seats early.
about 10pm the group started. It was a rhythm section and four or five
horns, no Ike, no Tina, and no Ikettes yet. We were in the front row
center, sitting maybe 5 feet
in front of the stage - which was only about 2 feet high - and that group seriously whupped my
hair was standing straight up on my arms, and my blood pressure probably
doubled. I was awestruck at the power and energy coming off the
After one or two instrumentals, they introduced Ike, he started
another song, bringing out the three Ikettes, and they were great. By now, the strobe lights were going, fog machines made the
stage look like the moon or something, and the whole place was really getting INTO
After a couple of songs by the Ikettes, Ike started another, and
introduced Tina. Then the whole group went into overdrive. I just
couldn't believe the power coming off that stage! The arrangements
were so solid and tight, one song just sliding into the next, Ikettes dancing
and singing, Tina controlling the whole room like magic, and that group
underneath it all, just like a freight train. That set hit me so hard, I was
almost gasping for breath. This is no joke.
the first show, I walked over to Ike and said hello. I told him how much I
liked the show, and I thought the group was astounding. He was real nice,
asked me about myself, what I played, and so on. Being a 19
year old wiseass, I said, "I heard you need a keyboard player."
He interpreted my sarcasm instantly, laughed, and asked me to stay until after
the second show. He wanted to hear me play. No problem! They did the second show, and again, completely blew me away
with the power and precision. I'd seen James Brown, Otis, Sam and Dave,
Pickett, Joe Tex, and dozens of others live - Ike and Tina just tore it UP!
Believe me, the Soul Survivors was NOTHING like this!
2am, after the show was over and the roadies started packing up equipment, Ike
brought me over to the old grand piano at the back of the stage, and I sat down
and played. He pitched songs at me real fast, and I played them - or tried
to - in the keys he was calling. In a minute, he called into the back,
"Ditta, come on out here!" Tina came out in a robe and slippers, the Ikettes following, and half the
group came out. Tina's asking if I know one
song, Ike's asking for another, and the Ikettes are still singing parts of the
piano pedals were broken, and when you pushed one, the whole contraption swung
way back under the piano. I'm slipping off the metal chair, trying
to hold the piano pedals in place with my left foot, push
with my right, and not slide under the
piano, all at once. Meanwhile, my date, Rebecca, was standing there
laughing at me, because I almost went under that damn piano about 30
I'm sorry to say it, but Tina looked so different without her stage
clothes, wig, and makeup, I wasn't really sure it was her. I hope she'll
forgive me for writing this, and understand I never saw her before. (It
gets worse than this - keep reading.) I discovered Tina's nickname was
"Ditta", because she was crazy about "Philly Dog" (MarKeys),
and constantly sang the horn parts as "ditta, ditta".
were invited to a great party in a hotel downtown, where Ike told me all about
his new studio, Bolic Recording, and I tried snorting coke for the very first
time. Ike offered me a job playing keyboards, and I guess I kind of accepted it.
We paraded around the party suites, he introduced me to about a hundred people
as "his new keyboard player", and really pumped up my ego.
Man, it felt great! He asked me to leave for New
Orleans with them in the morning. But I absolutely could NOT leave Memphis until I
cleared things at STAX. I knew STAX was going to close for vacation
pretty soon, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to go out to California
and record with Ike and Tina.
Well, that was my FIRST misunderstanding with Ike, but I'll get to that at some other time. Before the
night was over, Rhonda, the road manager, wrote me a check and issued an airline
ticket for me with no dates filled in yet.
few weeks later I flew out to Los Angeles, and Rhonda picked me up at the
airport - in the Rolls Royce of course, with the BOLIC license
plates. I'd never even SEEN a Rolls before! And I think this
one had TWO phones, one in front, one in back. She brought me up to
the Turner's home, which was a really beautiful house on Olympiad Drive, in the
Baldwin Hills area. Ike was sleeping when I arrived, so I hung around in
the living room and played piano for awhile.
Then, a really
pretty, friendly lady asked me if I wanted something to eat or drink. I
followed her into the kitchen where she made me a sandwich, and she asked me why
I hadn't spoken to her. I said I was sorry, but I didn't know her.
It sounds crazy, but in a new situation, I get very shy and embarrassed.
She was, of course, Tina. And I didn't recognize her. I felt like
the world's biggest moron. I probably apologized eighty times. She
just laughed about it, thank God.
Ike woke up, we went down to the studio, which wasn't actually a studio
just yet, it was a building with a lot of lumber piled up inside. He
showed me where the two control rooms would be, studios, walls, and I got a good idea of
what was coming in the future. Then we went to rehearsal in another
building, a few doors away. Ike put me into a motel right up the street
from the rehearsal room, and I stayed there for a few days, rehearsing every day and
hanging around when Ike or any of the players were around.
from STAX, and his wife, Laurel, were also out in California during the STAX
vacation, and they really wanted to meet Ike and Tina. I asked permission,
made the calls, Ike gave them directions, and they came over to the Turner's house.
We all had a
drink and a nice visit. Ike was very interested in some of the engineering
secrets at STAX, and Gordon explained quite a few.
I think I stayed in LA for just
about 3 weeks. I played three local (LA area) shows, rehearsed a lot, and
snorted a lot of coke. On the last weekend, we flew to San Francisco
- there were about 20 of us, all together. It was amazing, just going through an airport
with Ike and Tina! We were treated like royalty! We played
at Winterland, and it was a great concert. After that, I decided to
go back to Memphis, so I flew back the next morning.
Back home - back to Rebecca -
back to Memphis. Back to STAX.
1931 - December 12, 2007
I'll always remember you, Ike
Ike Turner Pages
Rich Playing Sessions
occurred to me that many people might not know much about recording sessions and
payment for doing them.
the late 60s, the more fortunate session musicians would play for "union
scale". In 1969, union scale was $85 for a session. Each
session was defined as three hours or three songs, whichever came first.
In theory, if you spent the whole day in the studio, you probably did two or
three sessions. The union charged the player a small percentage of the
session pay as work dues. For each $85 session, the work dues were
$1.70. The normal procedure that STAX followed was (1) the session
was called and played, then (2) it was filed with the union, (3)
STAX's accounting department issued the checks and sent them over to the union
office, and (4) the players went to the union office, paid their work
dues, and picked up their check.
This was a simple process, and something
you did maybe once every week or two, unless you needed the money right away,
like I usually did. It was a great place, because you always bumped into a
lot of the other players in the union office, and Bob Taylor always made you
laugh. I'm going to write about Bob someday soon, he was a great guy.
session had a leader, and normally the leader was paid double union scale.
For example, if Steve was producing an album on Mavis Staples, he would call for
the specific musicians, and he'd typically play guitar on each song. He
would file the session in STAX's production office with himself as the
leader. At that time, Judy was the production secretary who
kept all of the information going in the right directions. If Steve was
producing, but not playing on the session, one of the players would be
filed as the leader. An example would be overdubbing horns. Wayne,
Andy, and possibly one or two more horn players would do the session, and one of
them would be defined as leader. I believe, but I'm going to check the
facts carefully on this, that when horns were cut live with the rhythm section,
that was actually one session, with one leader.
slightly grey area regarding session pay was in fixing parts. If a player
had already cut a session, he might be asked to change or fix his parts, days or
weeks after the session was done. Sometimes this would be paid for,
sometimes it wasn't.
Another somewhat grey area was the "demo
session". This was a regular session, but the producer or the leader
(sometimes the same person) called the session a "demo", possibly
because there was no current probability of it being released as a single
record, thus no budget for it. This was never done at STAX that I know of,
but it was done in several other Memphis studios in those days. I
played on some sessions and was paid for a "demo session", learning
later on that the songs had been pressed and released for sale. I'm not
exactly sure how the filing was done for those sessions, if at all, but rarely
was I paid the difference between regular session scale and demo pay when the
masters were released. I remember times driving around in the car,
recognizing myself on the radio, and wondering if I ever got paid for that
session? On one or two occasions, Bob Taylor at the union intervened and
straightened out the situation. Some sessions, I wasn't paid at all.
But that's just part of growing up and learning.
past the ego and excitement of cutting records, it might seem at first that
session players earned a whole lot of money for their work. The truth is,
if the player was fortunate enough to do a lot of sessions, and get paid union
scale for most of them, or even leader scale, that player was certainly earning
a good living. Very few players were that fortunate. In reality, a
lot of players just barely got by on the session pay they earned. And,
back in the old days, things were a bit different. Royalties, or
residuals, weren't paid to the session players. To clarify - each record
sale generates a certain amount of profit. For each copy sold, the
writers, publishers, and artist get a certain amount, the record company gets a
certain amount, the producer gets a certain amount. But the session
players already got paid - they didn't get royalties. Back then, they
rarely ever got credit on the album notes for playing, either. If the
record bombed, if it sold 2 million copies, or if it was never released - the
session player got union scale pay - $85 in 1969 - for playing on it. By
the end of 1970, scale had gone up to $90 per session, and work dues were up to
$1.80. That doesn't seem like very much, compared to today's wages, but in
1969, gasoline cost less than 35 cents per gallon. I believe the situation
is much different today, and the session players also get royalties under the
the day, I was at STAX, but in the evenings, I had plenty of free time to go to
the other studios in town. I did a lot of sessions at Fame in
Memphis. Many of those were real sessions, some were demo sessions, and I was having a great
time playing, earning plenty at STAX, so I really didn't care too much about the
money. Sonny Limbo was managing the studio at that time, and he was crazy. Fame had
an 8 track Scully and a tube board, I think it was a Langevin. It had huge
knobs for gain, and it got HOT! JBL 4320 monitors, of course, and
all the standard equipment you'd find in better studios.
Somewhere around December, 1970, an artist
named Sami Jo came to Memphis, and we recorded several songs with her. One
of these, "Don't Hang No Halos On Me",
was written by Wayne Carson Thompson, (who wrote "The Letter"), and it
was picked up by Capitol Records, for release and distribution.
don't remember exactly who played on the rhythm tracks, I think it was the usual
bunch from Fame Memphis, I'm just not positive anymore. I initially cut
the rhythm track on grand piano. Then I overdubbed Hammond. Then Wurlitzer
I played a simple little "slide" thing on the
de-tuned low E
string of a Strat in the intro parts and turns. (By the way, I don't play
guitar.) Then more grand piano and Hammond organ at the ending. I really thought
the "take off on that bus" lyric could use a trombone (sounding kind
of like a bus?), so we found someone to overdub that one note. The lyrics
said something about "cheap hotels, dirty, dingy bars", so I played a thumbtack
(honky tonk) piano in that verse.
Then, there was a lyric that said
"wedding plans", so I overdubbed chimes (wedding bells?). The
ending has a kind of "Leon Russell march" line in it, and that was
doubled and tripled with several more keyboards. On the
fade, I did another Hammond track with percussion.
I wrote the horn lines, but I was completely against the cello part in the intro.
Actually, I was against any strings. I thought we had a
really strong track for Sami, and it didn't need anything else.
prevailed there. All together, I think we counted 17 different, separate
tracks that I played on the song. (All this on 1" 8 track tape -
plenty of pingponging!)
We laughed about it for
days. That one song was more like 15
sessions. We came up with the nickname "(Do Me A) Favor
Productions", a special subsidiary of "Fame Productions", in a sarcastic,
beer fueled moment. I was paid double
leader scale for those sessions, and for the first time in my life, I
was given label credit, too, as arranger and co-producer. It was a thrill for me.
But when the record was
pressed in stereo, I suddenly became an arranger - no more co-producer. Sometimes Sonny was a little greedy.
Sometimes Sonny was a lot greedy.
I'm sure it took
at least 3 weeks - and I mean probably 21 separate sessions - to get that one song cut and mixed. No complaints, but
sometimes, that's how things were done back then. And maybe even today,
The mp3 above is not the final
mix - I'm sorry - it's the last one I could find, and it doesn't have the
wedding bells on it.
Someday, I'll go through all
my old 1/4" masters, and locate the final mix. I also cut the
keyboard parts in "Get It On",
and several other songs. It was fun doing Sami's tracks.
nights, I went over to Sound Of Memphis studio, and hung around with Louis Paul,
another really capable songwriter / singer / player. We cut this sloppy
version of "La La Means I Love You",
just for fun. I played piano and Hammond spinet organ, and Louis played
could go on and on, reminiscing about the days of STAX, Memphis, and soul.
And maybe I will. In the meantime, I listen to STAX music nearly every day
of my life, just like I have since the 1960s. It really never ends.