Wednesday, December 19, 2007


On Tuesday, December 18, The Recording Academy announced that one its Grammy Trustee Award recipients during the 50th Grammy Awards in February 2008 will none other than Memphis’ own Hi Records legend Willie Mitchell. This same award was given to Stax Records’ Estelle “Lady A” Axton last year and Booker T. & the MGs received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. All great things for Memphis.

I think this honor for Willie Mitchell is outstanding and well deserved and long overdue. Aside from his tremendous musical accomplishments, Willie might just be the coolest person on the planet. He still works at his famed Royal Studios located on what was Lauderdale Street and is now Willie Mitchell Boulevard! And he is a more-than-gracious host to most anyone who drops by to visit. He recently told me, “Every time I hear a piece of really good music, it adds ten years to my life. It’s the reason I’m still alive.”

A popular trumpet player and band leader in his early career, Mitchell is probably best known for discovering and developing the talents of soul giants Al Green and Ann Peebles. He co-produced and engineered all of Green's albums from 1970 through 1976, including such seminal soul classics as "Tired Of Being Alone," "Here I Am (Come And Take Me)," and "Let's Stay Together." And, of course, he and Ann Peebles gave us “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” and other great hits. But he has also worked with many other great artists, including his own Hi Rhythm Section (pictured with him above from the Stax Museum exhibit "Stax Here and Now") Syl Johnson, Donald Bryant, Otis Clay, O.V. Wright, and, more recently, John Mayer.


Monday, December 17, 2007


By Falling James!

More than anything else, this new DVD emphasizes what a warm, funny, dynamic and larger-than-life figure Otis Redding was onstage, in ways that even his concert albums haven’t made clear. It’s one thing to hear that explosive voice, and it’s quite another to hear it while also witnessing the electrifying way he dominates a stage, shaking from within like a volcano.

Dreams to Remember mixes positively incendiary live footage, TV appearances and goofily charming promo films with interviews with former band mates Steve Cropper and Wayne Jackson, Redding’s wife Zelma, Stax Records head Jim Stewart and others. Redding’s sheer force of personality even lights up the corny early lip-synched TV spots, and the promo films for “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” and the down-on-the-farm lovers’ quarrel with Carla Thomas on “Tramp” are better than most videos, thanks to his easy-going clowning and inherent, unforced acting ability.

Of course, the truly live performances are the most thrilling parts; I kept getting literal chills up and down the elevators of my spine throughout the Monterey Festival highlights, as well as the Stax/Volt Revue in London in 1967, where he reclaims “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and “Satisfaction” from the Rolling Stones with total confidence. Even as he’s giving praise to Mick Jagger, he can’t help coming off as a full-grown, fully mature and aware MAN in comparison to the geeky Stones.

His versions of “Try a Little Tenderness” and “Respect,” with tight, sophisticated backing by the Bar-Kays, would be astonishing and precious in any universe, even if they weren’t recorded mere hours before the tragic plane crash in Wisconsin.

By the end of the documentary, I was bawling uncontrollably, probably for the first time in many years over something that I wasn’t directly involved with or feeling selfish about on some level. It’s not that the story here was told sentimentally or was fishing for cheap and obvious emotions, it’s that you feel such a deep loss merely by having the DVD end, much less recalling the cold-blooded rudeness of death permanently taking away such a musical giant, such a monumental, godlike voice belonging to such an unpretentiously likable soul.

And I do mean soul.

BONUSES: There are more interviews with Jackson and Cropper, a photo gallery and a 22-page booklet with detailed liner notes and bio.

"Dreams to Remember: The Legacy of Otis Redding" is available at the Stax Museum gift shop or on the Stax Museum's online shop at

Thursday, December 13, 2007


On Monday, December 10th, we opened our special new Otis Redding exhibit at the Stax Museum, "OTIS REDDING: FROM MACON TO MEMPHIS - An Exhibit from the Private Collection of Zelma Redding."

A long time in the making, the exhibit now has more than 100 photographs and artifacts very generously loaned to us by Otis' widow, Zelma Redding. The exhibit is in the recreation of the famed Stax Records Studio A and it's the first time that area of the museum has housed a changing exhibit. Although it is a recreation (the original Stax building was demolished in 1989), when you are standing it the room surrounded by all of the fascinating photos of Otis and the other artifacts, you are standing on the exact same ground where Otis recorded almost all of his music. It is, indeed, hallowed ground.

This exhibit means a great deal to me. I'm not one for celebrity worship, but there is something about Otis Redding that is so special and so beautiful, it's hard to explain. Of course, I never met Otis Redding and know about him only through his family and the musicians and other Stax employees who knew him, but - like many artistic geniuses who die young - there is a mystique about him that is fascinating. Here was this very young man from Georgia, who wanted so badly to be a singer, but had to work as a well digger and hospital orderly (he got fired from that job for singing too much on the job!) who never wavered from his dream. Think about it. He was 19 or 20 when he first came to Stax Records, and by age 26 he had accomplished so much and appeared to have absolutely loved the journey he was on. His recordings were incredible, but video footage of his live performances are like none of any other live performer I have ever seen. He was magnificent, confident, vulnerable, and honest all at the same time.

One of the best things about this new exhibit to me is that it shows Otis Redding off stage as well, mainly at his Big O Ranch outside Macon, Georgia, a place he loved. You see him riding his horses, petting his cattle, sitting on the diving board of his pool, walking with his kids, and stretched out on the ground leaning against a Revolutionary War-era gravestone just relaxing with a cigarette. In some of the photos he looks elated. In some he looks very pensive. All in all, it shows that he was human like the rest of us and somehow that is comforting.

If you have any Otis Redding memories you would like to share, or just comments on the King of Soul, please post them here. And come see the exhihit. I think you'll feel like Otis is in the building.


Tuesday, December 4, 2007


“OTIS REDDING – FROM MACON TO MEMPHIS: An Exhibit from the Private Collection of Zelma Redding”

December 10, 2007 – April 30, 2008

DECEMBER 4, 2007, MEMPHIS, TN – His rise in the music industry was nothing short of meteoric. He arrived at Stax Records in 1962 as the driver and equipment handler for Johnny Jenkins & the Pinetoppers, a band with whom he had occasionally performed in and around his native Macon, Georgia. At the end of the evening, after having asked all day for a chance to sing, Stax Records founder Jim Stewart and Booker T. & the MGs guitarist and songwriter Steve Cropper gave him that chance. There in the famed Studio A, when Otis Redding began singing "These Arms of Mine," the world changed forever. For the next five years, Redding would record hit after hit, take Europe by storm, and enthrall thousands of love children at the Monterey Pop Festival alongside the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane. But the world changed again that same year, when, on December 10, 1967, Redding, the pilot, and all but two members of his touring band the Bar-Kays were killed when his plane crashed in Lake Monona, just a few minutes from the airport in Madison, Wisconsin, at the age of 26. Only Bar-Kay trumpet player Ben Cauley survived the crash; fellow Bar-Kay member James Alexander was on a different, commercial flight.

Today, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, located at the site of Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee, where Redding recorded the songs that captured the hearts of millions, announced that it will be home to a very special exhibit to pay homage to the singer, loving husband, and father. "OTIS REDDING: FROM MACON TO MEMPHIS - An Exhibit from the Private Collection of Zelma Redding" opens on Monday, December 10, 2007 in commemoration of Redding's passing, and will be on display through April 30, 2008. With items on loan from Otis Redding's widow and daughter, Zelma and Karla Redding-Andrews, the exhibit features a collection of never-before-shown family photographs taken on the Reddings' 300-acre ranch outside Macon, and shows more than Otis Redding the singer and entertainer. Redding is seen petting his cattle, holding his son Otis Redding III, pitching hay from his barn, and engaged in other activities that portray him at home. The exhibit also includes personal mementos from Mrs. Redding such as telegrams of condolence from Booker T. & the MGs, then-Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, Nina Simone, the Staple Singers, the Stax Records “family,” and others.

"Otis Redding had an impact on the world in a very short period of time that most musical artists never achieve in a long lifetime," said Marc Willis, CEO of the Soulsville Foundation, the nonprofit parent company that operates the Stax Museum, Stax Music Academy, and The Soulsville Charter School. "It is a privilege for the Stax Museum to host this special exhibit and celebrate Otis Redding's life and career, and we are grateful to Zelma Redding and Karla Redding-Andrews for sharing these very personal items with us and helping organize this exhibit. In many ways, Otis Redding is one of the reasons the Stax Museum exists today."

"Stax Records was like a second home for Otis," stated Zelma Redding. "He recorded some of his biggest hits there and worked with some of the world's best musicians. We are pleased to be able to share some of our personal family moments in this exhibit."

In addition to the artifacts on loan from Zelma Redding and Karla Redding-Andrews, “OTIS REDDING: FROM MACON TO MEMPHIS” contains several items on loan from private collector Bob Grady and never-before-shown artifacts from the Stax Museum archives. “OTIS REDDING: FROM MACON TO MEMPHIS” is hosted with the assistance of ArtsMemphis, the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, and the Big “O” Youth Educational Dream Foundation, which the Redding family founded in 2007 in an effort to continue Redding’s dream of encouraging and assisting youth by enhancing their lives through education and the arts.