Visit to Stax Museum gets to the soul of Jason King Band
MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Stax Records went out of business decades ago but it still kindles inspiration.
The four members of the Jason King Band, who are from Reno and Truckee, visited the Stax Museum in February when they were in Memphis to compete in the International Blues Challenge.
“When we were walking through there I was like a little kid,” Jason King Roxas said. “I was excited and on the verge of tears.”
King pointed to a photograph of Ike Turner in the studio with a caption saying the image was taken in 1962.
“Hey, that’s not right,” King, a serious guitarhead, said. “That Strat (guitar) was made in at least 1964.”
Drummer Michael Patrick Moore was reminded of his early studio days in the 1960s when he viewed the old analog recording equipment.
“They didn’t have a click track,” Moore said. “They maintained tempo and feel, take for take. They came up with click track in mid-70s, then the drum machine and Pro Tools. Now you can make corrections after the fact. Back then you had to have an acoustic knowledge of your instruments. Mixing is a lost art.”
Stax, which also was known as Soulsville, didn’t see color. It just heard music. The Memphis Horns had three players, two black, one white. Booker T. & the MGs were Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn, two whites and a black. Integrated collaboration like that was unheard of in the early 1960s.
We watched a video interview of Cropper who said after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Memphis and Stax became mired in racial tension.
Otis Redding, the greatest Stax star, was killed in a plane crash about the same time King died, and the historic record company shut down a short time later.
“At the beginning of the tour, the spirituals and the gospel scenes were so moving to me,” King said. “That was the feeling that made me fall in love with music. I was able to pinpoint a certain emotion I felt the first time I wanted to play blues and R&B. … I get goose bumps just talking about it.”
After King, Moore, guitarist Tommy Stiles and bassist Paul “Paulie Walnuts” Squellante, returned home, they enthusiastically wrote and rehearsed.
“It took me back to the excitement and wonderment and respect for it if first had in the studio in the ’70s,” Moore said.
“We have enough material for a whole new album,” King said. “We’re just shopping around for a studio.”
Moore, Styles and Squellante all contributed a year ago to King’s debut album, and afterward they each wanted to join King’s band for live shows. King said he appreciates working with older, more experienced musicians.
“They are very supportive and very encouraging,” King said. “They’re the first guys I’ve ever worked with who encourage it – ‘Hey man, your bread and butter is the originals’ – I actually like the fact that those guys like what I write and they want to contribute. They are making me want to write more.”
Moore purchased new equipment after he returned from Memphis.
“One thing about Michael is he’s constantly learning,” King said. “He was inspired to break down the deceptively simple beats drummers from that era (Stax) used. You have to listen to it the way it fits in the song, how it carries a song. It’s the backbone of the whole ensemble.
“Michael was noticeably moved by that whole experience. He sat back and studied and revisited some of those old styles.”
Another benefit of competing in the IBC was making friendships with other artists. Karen Lovely, a powerful soul singer, finished second in 2010, which led to a record deal, and she is nominated for three categories in tonight’s Blues Music Awards, also held in Memphis. King, Moore and Stiles were onstage for an IBC after-party in the New Daisy Theater at a pro jam, at which Lovely was the host.
Lovely, who recently performed in Reno, dropped by a club where the Jason King Band was playing.
“Her star’s definitely on the rise and I know she’s busy, and for her to take the time to come down and see us was cool,” King said.
A photograph of a young Etta James in the Stax Museum has an amazing resemblance to Lovely.
Moore told a story about hiding as a teenager in the Fillmore West balcony in San Francisco for the chance to meet Redding. We turned a corner and there was a poster advertising the 1966 show. Redding was the headliner, and the Grateful Dead opened. Tickets were $3.
We learned the truth behind the name Booker T. & the MGs. MG does not stand for Memphis Group. It is for the MG sports car.
We spent hours in the museum.
A hallway was wallpapered with hundreds of albums, one by Booker T & the MGs was titled “McLemore Avenue.” The cover shot on the Memphis street is a recreation “Abby Road,” which has The Beatles walking in a crosswalk.
I took an image of the Jason King Band recreating the copied photo, which wasn’t easy because McLemore Avenue is a busy street and it was a very cold Memphis day. I jokingly suggested they use it for the upcoming album.
The visit to Stax made a soulful impression of each of us.