Stax Records will celebrate its 60th anniversary with a string of releases designed to highlight the label’s history and legendary soul sound and reunite its long-divided catalog. The year-long campaign is a collaboration between Rhino Entertainment and Concord Music Group and launches May 19th with the Stax Classics series.
The Stax Classics series boasts 10 new hits compilations from the label’s biggest artists: Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, the Staples Singers, Sam and Dave, William Bell, Johnnie Taylor, Carla Thomas, Booker T. & M.G.’s, the Dramatics and Albert King. Each 12-song collection will come with new liner notes and be available digitally and on CD.
Rhino and Concord also plan to reissue numerous classic Stax records on vinyl, including a 50th anniversary pressing of Redding and Thomas’ 1967 collaborative effort King and Queen and Redding’s 1965 solo album, The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads. Other projects include reissues of Melvin Van Peebles’ soundtrack to the classic blaxploitation film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song and John Gary Williams, the rare solo debut from the Mad Lads frontman.
A three-disc Stax 60th box set is also in the works, as is the fourth installment of the Complete Stax Singles series. The new edition will include selections from the Stax catalog as well as offerings from its sister label, Volt, and various subsidiaries Enterprise, Gospel Truth, Hip and Chalice.
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Among the biggest projects of the 60th anniversary campaign will be a massive overhaul of Stax’s digital catalog. Rhino and Concord plan to make numerous Stax records available to stream online for the first time, while they’ll also properly remaster a slew of classic albums specifically for digital outlets.
While Stax’s 60th anniversary is itself cause for celebration, Rhino and Concord’s collaborative campaign notably marks the long-awaited reunification of the Stax catalog, which has effectively been split since 1968. That year, Stax severed its ties with Atlantic Records when Warner Bros. purchased the latter. Nevertheless, Atlantic managed to walk away with much of Stax’s pre-May 1968 catalog, which boasted a bevy of hits from Redding, Booker T. and more.
Stax continued as an independent label, though it would eventually run into financial trouble and declare bankruptcy in 1975. Fantasy Records bought the label two years later. While Fantasy attempted to revive Stax, the project was short-lived and Stax inevitably became a reissue label. As Atlantic continued to re-release projects from its portion of the Stax catalog – often through its subsidiary, Rhino – so did Fantasy, until Concord purchased that label in 2004.
“On the anniversary of Stax Records’ 60th, this Concord/Rhino collaboration signals the beginning of the end of a bittersweet relationship between Stax and Atlantic,” said Stax founder Jim Stewart. “It’s long overdue and a good omen for the unending popularity of the very best of Memphis Soul music.”
Stewart founded the label – originally known as Satellite Records – in 1957 and ran it with his sister Estelle Axton and then Al Bell. The label changed its name to Stax in 1960 and Soulsville, U.S.A. swiftly went from a regional powerhouse to a national force. Much like Motown in Detroit, Stax operated its own studio in Memphis, boasted a roster of A&R reps and songwriters and employed a house band – Booker T. & the M.G.’s – that helped craft and define the label’s signature Southern soul sound.
Despite its dissolution as a label, Stax remains a powerful force in Memphis music. In 2003, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music opened at the label’s former location, while the Stax Music Academy and The Soulsville Charter School are housed next door.