Here’s Eddie Floyd – one of the legendary Memphis label Stax’s most successful artists (as both a singer and songwriter) – doing his hit “I’ve Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do).” But with a career that predates his Stax days, Floyd also served in the Detroit vocal group Falcons, alongside Sir Mack Rice (also performing at this year’s Ponderosa Stomp) and Wilson Pickett. The group scored hits with “You’re So Fine” and “I Found a Love.” Signing with Stax in 1965, Floyd helped write “Ninety-Nine and a Half (Won’t Do)” and “634-5789 (Soulsville USA)” for Pickett. Indeed, almost every Stax artist recorded Floyd’s tunes, often co-written with Steve Cropper or Booker T. Jones, including Sam & Dave (“You Don’t Know What You Mean to Me”), Rufus Thomas (“The Breakdown”), Otis Redding (“I Love You More Than Words Can Say”), and Johnnie Taylor’s “Just the One (I’ve Been Looking For).” Floyd scored his own successes as a solo artist with “Knock on Wood” and “Big Bird,” (which he reportedly wrote in a London airport while waiting for a plane back to the United States for Redding’s funeral), among others.
As some Louisiana lagniappe, here’s Alex Chilton, a fellow son of Memphis and a frequent sideman at the Stomp, offering up his version of the same song, backed by Teenage Fanclub.
Isaac Hayes won the Academy Award for Best Original Song and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song for “Theme from Shaft,” Gordon Parks’ 1971 blaxplotation masterpiece. Released as a double album by Stax Records’ Enterprise label, the mostly instrumental soundtrack became the best-selling LP ever released on a Stax label.
“The song begins with a sixteenth-note hi-hat ride pattern, played by Willie Hall, which was drawn from a break on Otis Redding’s ‘Try A Little Tenderness,’ a Stax record on which Hayes had played. Also featuring heavily in the intro is Charles Pitts’ guitar, which uses a wah-wah effect common in 1970s funk; the riff had originally been written for an unfinished Stax song. The synthesized keyboard is played by Hayes. Even on the edited single version, the intro lasts for more than two and a half minutes before any vocals are heard.
“The lyrics describe John Shaft’s coolness, courage, and sex appeal, and Hayes’ lead vocals are punctuated by a trio of female backup singers. At one famous moment, Hayes calls Shaft ‘a bad mother—’ before the backup singers (one of whom is Tony Orlando & Dawn’s Telma Hopkins) interrupt the implied profanity with the line ‘Shut yo’ mouth!’ Hayes immediately defends himself by replying that he’s ‘only talking about Shaft,’ with the back-up vocalists replying, ‘We can dig it.’ Other well-known passages include ‘You’re damn right!’ also uttered by Hayes, and ‘He’s a complicated man/but no one understands him/but his woman/John Shaft.’”
William Bell performs at the Ponderosa Stomp at Lincoln Center\'s Midsummer Night Swing, 7/16/09.
Even after William Bell brought the Stax label one of its first hits, 1961′s “You Don’t Miss Your Water” – a song that would largely set the tone for the label’s signature Southern soul sound – he still remained on the fence about whether or not to ditch the recording business and go to medical school. At least, that’s what he told me during our live interview this past August at the Cutting Edge Music Business Conference.
Luckily, he didn’t (though our own Dr. Ike proves that medicine and rock n’roll aren’t mutually exclusive.) We’ve posted the audio from that interview below so you can hear one of the Stomp’s most popular returning performers discuss the rise and fall of Stax, the intense creative and political climate of Memphis in the 60′s, and how he happened to come to New Orleans to get a new sound.
“The third night of the inaugural Lincoln Center edition of the Ponderosa Stomp — the annual spring resurrection of forgotten roots-rock and R&B heroes and heroines, founded and held in New Orleans — was an oddly formal affair, compared to the outdoor soul and rockabilly shows presented earlier in the week. ‘Everybody get on your feet/You make me nervous when you’re in your seat,’ Robert Parker sang on Sunday night in a well-preserved voice at the start of his 1966 hit ‘Barefootin’,’ one of the many Crescent City R&B classics associated with the evening’s honoree, producer-arranger-songwriter Wardell Quezergue. But sitting down is where the otherwise delighted audience at Alice Tully Hall stayed during most of the two-hour revue. In New Orleans, when a song like that is in the air, anything short of a shimmy is against the law.
But Quezergue, who turns 80 this year, deserves the lofty setting. In the Sixties and Seventies, he earned the nickname ‘The Creole Beethoven’ for his masterful blend of New Orleans rhythms and commercial wisdom in bedrock soul recordings such as Earl King’s ‘Trick Bag’ (1962), Professor Longhair”s ‘Big Chief’ (1964) and King Floyd’s ‘Groove Me’ (1970), then on mainstream collaborations with Paul Simon and Willie Nelson. At Lincoln Center, Quezergue conducted a ten-piece band from a chair as more than half a dozen of his original charges, including Dr. John, the Dixie Cups, Jean Knight and Tammy Lynn, recreated their biggest hits with him.”
And Jon Pareles covered the event for the New York Times, writing in part that, “the Dixie Cups, the New Orleans girl group, had distributed napkins before the concert, to be waved over the New Orleans second-line parade beat, and they got the audience up and dancing for ‘Iko Iko,’ which they turned into a medley of Mardi Gras songs and ‘When the Saints Go Marching In.’ After their segment, Rosa Hawkins of the Dixie Cups turned to Mr. Quezergue and said, ‘Thanks for the hits.’”