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9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1
KCET Los Angeles
The accomplishments of Stax Records are significant, but only when placed in the context of its times, which is what this “Great Performances” special does. The record label’s big claim to fame is that it demonstrated, in the rigidly segregated environment of 1960s Memphis, that there were artistic and financial rewards to be reaped by creating a music studio open to all races.
Atlantic Records, profiled less than three months ago on “American Masters,” recounted the story of a New York label started by the son of a Turkish diplomat. Stax had an even more unlikely owner: a local bank teller with less musical expertise. Interestingly, the stories of both labels are intertwined. Stax had a national distribution deal with Atlantic, and Atlantic artists often went to Memphis to record at Stax.
Stax went bankrupt in the mid-’70s but has been reborn a couple of times since then. The current owners generously shared vintage footage of Stax performers who personified the Memphis sound, including Otis Redding and Booker T. and the MGs. In return, producer-directors Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville go easy on the company’s frequently inept management and the excuses given for Stax’s financial difficulties.
Unlike the Atlantic Records story, with its parade of musical giants, this two-hour production features musicians known mainly to baby boomers and a sprinkling of music historians. For those who recall the funky flair that defined Stax output, watching this docu will be a delightful sentimental journey.
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