I live in West Tennessee and I also grew up here. Most of the television stations that we watched were from Memphis. The most popular radio stations that we listened to were also from Memphis. I would love to be able to say that I know a lot about Memphis music because I listened to it all when I was a kid but this is absolutely not true. My knowledge of Memphis music was relatively limited especially when it came to soul music. For me, Memphis soul music was Al Green and later Isaac Hayes. And the only Isaac Hayes music I knew was the Theme from Shaft. Even if I had heard any of the other great music from Stax Records, I had little or no idea that it was related to this Memphis institution. My knowledge of Memphis soul music was limited to what they would tell me on the top 40 stations that catered mainly to white pre-teens and teenagers. Only the occasional soul hit would make it on these stations at the time the Stax Records was making a name for themselves and I was young enough that I wasn’t paying attention.
I also wish I could say that years later when the Blues Brothers released Soul Man as a single and their Briefcase Full of Blues album, I quickly found out that one of the guitarists and the bass player where in the great Memphis group, Booker T. and the M.G.’s. But even if someone had told me, it wouldn’t have mattered. I didn’t know that group and at the time, I’m not sure if I would have even recognized any of their music. It wasn’t until the Blues Brothers released their film that I became interested in Memphis music. But it wasn’t because of the musicians in the band. As far as I knew, they were just actors and no one that I should know. My first real connection to Memphis music would be because of the scene right before the Blues Brothers drive through the mall. In this scene, they are driving down the road catching up with each other. There is music playing in the background and there is a brief shot of an 8 Track tape in the player in their car. The tape is The Best of Sam and Dave. I had no idea who they were but I knew I liked the songs that were playing. When I got my first car, I knew I had to have a copy of the 8 track tape if I could find it. I wanted to be cool like the Blues Brothers and listen to the same music when I was riding around in my car. I was lucky enough to find a copy at my local record store. I loved all of the songs on this tape but I still wasn’t making a Memphis connection. I didn’t even realize that any of the musicians playing on the original Soul Man were on the Blues Brothers’ recording. I thought John Belushi was just saying “Play it, Steve!” because that’s what they said on the original recording. I didn’t realize it was Steve Cropper of Booker T. and the M.G.’s playing on both recordings. It would be several years before I found out that this same Steve Cropper wrote Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay with Otis Redding and that Booker T. and the M.G.’s were the house band for practically all of the Stax recording artists. In the 1980’s, HBO started showing the complete Otis Redding performance from the Monterey Pop Festival. I think it was about this time, I found out about all of these musicians and how they played with one another. I upgraded my copy of The Best of Sam and Dave to a CD. I also got The Best of Booker T. and the M.G.’s on CD. I keep these CD’s in the player in my shop and on nights like tonight when I’m grilling, they are usually playing.
It was years later before I found out that Isaac Hayes wrote many of the hits for Sam and Dave like Soul Man. It was around that same time that I realized the real impact of Booker T. and the M.G.’s. They were an integrated band (2 black members and 2 white members) working together in a segregated Memphis. They were working together for a record company that was owned by white people that produced music that was targeted primarily for a black audience. This was happening in a southern city with significant race issues that drew the attention of Dr. Martin Luther King. These black and white people were working together to produce this outstanding music in the same environment that result in the assassination of our country’s greatest civil rights leader.
I have to admit that my knowledge of Memphis soul music is still limited. I have read a few articles and watched a couple of documentaries. I recognize the Memphis sound and might even recognize the names of a few more artists than what I have mentioned in this post. And if you stop by my house on a night when I am in my shop grilling, you will probably hear Booker T. and the M.G.’s. And Sam and Dave. And me acting like I know absolutely everything about them.
Singer, Songwriter, Entertainer, Storyteller