In the Booker T. Christmas Spirit

Ecumenical: Blue AND White Christmas

In the Christmas SpiritIn 1966 – possibly my favorite pop music year ever – Booker T. and the M.G.’s put out a holiday album.

The group was an “American instrumental R and B/funk band that was influential in shaping the sound of Southern soul and Memphis soul.” True, that. The members in 1966 were Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Al Jackson Jr. (drums), and Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass).

Stax Records was the great record label out of Memphis, TN. Motown may have been “The Sound of Young America,” But Stax was “Soulsville U.S.A.”, the title of a tremendous book by Rob Bowman.

“In the 1960s, as members of the house band of Stax Records, they played on hundreds of recordings by artists including Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, and Albert King. They also released instrumental records under their own name, including the 1962 hit single ‘Green Onions.'”

In the Christmas Spirit was their fourth album.

The songs

Jingle Bells (James Lord Pierpont). Periodically, Billboard had Christmas charts. This song, released as a single, got to #20 in 1966. This track also appeared on a 1968 compilation called Soul Christmas.
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town  (J. Fred Coots, Haven Gillespie)
Winter Wonderland (Felix Bernard, Dick Smith) B-side of Jingle Bells.
White Christmas  (Irving Berlin)
The Christmas Song (Mel Tormé, Robert Wells)
Silver Bells (Ray Evans, Jay Livingston). Released as a 1967 season single. Also on Soul Christmas.

Merry Christmas Baby (Lou Baxter, Johnny Moore)
Blue Christmas (Bill Hayes, Jay Johnson)
Sweet Little Jesus Boy (Bob MacGimsey)
Silent Night (Franz Xaver Gruber, Joseph Mohr)
We Three Kings We Three Kings (John Henry Hopkins, Jr.)
We Wish You a Merry Christmas (Traditional)

The B-side of the Silver Bells single was the non-album track, Winter Snow (Isaac Hayes), a song I love dearly.

Music throwback: Stax food choices

The Astors also spent 2 1/2 months performing on tour with The James Brown Review.

I was listening to one of my Stax-Volt box sets, which I usually do in the summer, in honor of the label’s co-founder Jim Stewart’s birthday. (His sister Estelle Axton ALSO belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, BTW.) I’ve written about Stax before, including its complicated relationship with Atlantic Records.

I noticed that some of the Memphis soul label artists, especially the more obscure ones – we’re not talking Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas – had tracks with food-related titles.

This is not to say that some of the name artists didn’t ALSO choose a musical culinary route. Booker T and the MG’s had a song about popcorn, e.g. But I picked three songs to highlight, two of which may give you tooth decay.

Candy – The Astors. Composed by Booker T & MG’s guitarist Steve Cropper and Isaac Hayes, this is the only one of the Memphis group’s songs to chart. #12 on the R&B charts, #63 on the pop charts (Billboard) in the summer of 1965.

“As ‘Candy’ moved up the charts, The Astors performed on shows at the Uptown Theater in Philly, the Howard Theater in D.C., The Regal Theater in Chicago, and The Apollo Theater in New York. The other performers on these shows included The O’Jays, The Coasters, Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions, and Redd Foxx to name a few. The Astors also spent 2 1/2 months performing on tour with The James Brown Review.”

Listen HERE or HERE
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Sugar, Sugar – The Mad Lads (1966). The song was composed by Alvertis Isbell and Eddie Floyd, the latter a name artist, but, as far as I can tell, the song did not chart. The group is from Detroit.

Listen HERE or HERE
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Hot Dog- The Four Shells (March 1966). “A Chicago group recording licensed to Stax, produced by Jerry Butler and Eddie Thomas.” I cannot find any chart action for this either.

Listen HERE or HERE

Despite their relative obscurity, these all sound vaguely familiar, as though they were regionally popular, even if they were not always national hits.

Music Throwback Saturday: STAX Christmas

Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday was a minor success in 1967.

William Bell
William Bell
When I obtained a couple box sets of the Memphis-based soul label STAX several years back, I noticed that there were a few holiday-related singles in the collections. Here are just three.

Booker T. and the MG’s

The STAX house band, included Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg, replaced in 1965 by Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass), and Al Jackson, Jr. (drums). They also had some hit singles.

The group released a holiday album, In The Christmas Spirit in 1966. It put out one seasonal single that year, Jingle Bells, b/w Winter Wonderland. “Jingle Bells peaked at #20 on Billboard’s list of Christmas-related singles in 1966. It did not make the standard pop charts.”
Continue reading “Music Throwback Saturday: STAX Christmas”

Sam Moore of Sam & Dave is 80 (tomorrow)

Sam Moore was blown away, and uttered “Play it, Steve” spontaneously.

sam-and-daveSamuel David Moore (born October 12, 1935) and the late Dave Prater (May 9, 1937 – April 9, 1988) comprised, inarguably, the most successful and critically acclaimed soul singing duo, Sam & Dave, from 1961 to 1981. They are members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (1992) and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. Sam Moore has continued his career as a solo performing and recording artist.

They had a complicated recording situation, signed to Atlantic Records, but leased to the soul label Stax for a time in order to get the Memphis feel. Their working relationship was also strange; “according to Moore, they did not speak to each other offstage for almost 13 years.”

A Place Nobody Can Find, written by David Porter, was their first STAX single, b/w Goodnight Baby (Isaac Hayes/Porter), both sides featured Dave Prater singing lead. It failed to chart. That would soon change.

Many of the song description narratives are from the great book Soulsville U.S.A. Continue reading “Sam Moore of Sam & Dave is 80 (tomorrow)”

X is for Estelle Axton

I believe Estelle Axton ought to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Estelle AxtonJim Stewart was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002. Here’s part of his bio:

Jim Stewart and sister Estelle Axton were the co-founders of Memphis-based Stax Records. Stax and Motown were the two most important record labels in America in terms of bringing black music into the mainstream during the Sixties and Seventies.

Stax recorded some of the greatest acts in the history of soul music – Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam and Dave, Johnnie Taylor, Booker T. & the MG’s, Carla Thomas, and Eddie Floyd, among them.
Continue reading “X is for Estelle Axton”