Color innovative Staxx Brothers Red
Davin Michael Stedman said he always thought Van Morrison was black and Chuck Berry was white. And people who see and hear Stedman are confused too. Is he black? White? Latin?
Ethnicity is irrelevant when it comes to music, but it’s hard not to think about it.
Memphis is where Elvis Presley came to record music only previously played by blacks, and they called it rock ‘n’ roll. It’s also where the country’s greatest civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., was slain. And it’s where American soul music was invented, at Stax Records, in an old movie theater with inclined floors converted into a studio.
In its heyday from 1961-67, color didn’t matter at Stax, where today its session players are considered musical deities: white guys Steve Cropper on guitar and Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass; blacks Al Jackson Jr. on drums and Booker T. Jones on keyboards were Booker T and the MGs. The Memphis horn trio had two blacks and a white.
Stax’s greatest star, Otis Redding, died in a plane crash, Dr. King was murdered and the label was sold to Warner Bros.-Seven Arts. Three events in four months ended American soul music’s seminal era.
Cropper said before the assassination no one at Stax was looked upon as black or white. There has been a bitter divide in Memphis ever since.
Stedman was a student at Washington State University – “Wazoo” – when he discovered Stax. A lover of rap, he was rocked when he heard soul.
“Wait a second,” he thought. “I love hip-hop but it’s really just a bunch of soul samples.”
“We just worshiped that music,” Stedman said. “It was right around the time Napster came out and there was a limited amount of stuff available. I bought a two-disc set from Costco. It was amazing, this history that nobody else our age knew back in college. So we took it ourselves the way we thought the (Rolling) Stones took blues. We just tried to tell everybody about this awesome soul music and did it our way.”
Stedman is the frontman, singer and harp player for the six-piece Staxx Brothers. The group’s second album, “We are The Blaxtonz,” is more than an homage to Stax. It’s a modern-day interpretation. Comparing what the Staxx Brothers are doing with American soul music to the Stones’ take on American blues sounds overambitious until you listen to it.
Stedman, whose vocals sound a bit like Mick Jagger’s, circa “Some Girls,” read Keith Richards’ new autobiography, “Life,” and clearly music genealogy is his passion. He’s done his homework.
“As I learned more about music and more about Stax, I realized, this is what it’s all about,” he said. “Stax was all about the dopest people working together in this unlikely little studio and they changed music. I love everything about it.”
Whether a listener is a fan of old soul, clever hip-hop or just plain, good music, there are lots of reasons to check out the Staxx Brothers.
And we didn’t even mention the zombie videos.
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