Founded in an old movie theatre in Memphis (originally as a country/pop label called Satellite Records) by Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, Stax – made up of the first letters of Stewart and Axton’s last names – had been carving out a reputation since its inception in 1961 and boasted Booker T and the MGs as its house band.
It was this band (and the horn section known as The Mar-Keys) who played behind notables like Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Rufus Thomas, Arthur Conley, and – for a time – Wilson Pickett, who was sent south to Memphis by Atlantic Records after signing with them in 1964.
Stax’s biggest asset was raspy-voiced singer Otis Redding, who first hit the charts in 1963 with These Arms of Mine.
Following the tragic early demise of Otis Redding in 1967, Stax severed ties with Atlantic (which, through a contractual loophole, took all of Stax’s back catalogue) and became an independent label guided by the redoubtable Al Bell, a producer, writer and natural record man with a good nose for what his public wanted in a time of flux as the 70s dawned.
With Isaac Hayes leading the charge, the label – previously famous for its punchy 45s – began to explore the album format.
When Stax finally folded in 1976, Jim Stewart lost almost everything. He eventually built his life back up financially but retired from the music business completely, even skipping his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
Jim Stewart died on 5 December 2022, aged 92.