Craft Recordings Announces 'The Memphis Masters'

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Craft Recordings Announces 'The Memphis Masters'

Craft Recordings is thrilled to announce The Memphis Masters-a limited video series celebrating various albums from the iconic Stax Records label, showcasing its enduring musical legacy, as well as its influence on Memphis, TN. Created in partnership with Memphis Record Pressing and Memphis Tourism, and directed by Andrew Trent Fleming of TheFilmJerk Media, the multi-part series was shot in several locations around the city-also known as the home of blues, soul and rock 'n' roll-including such historic landmarks as Sam Phillips Recording Service, Royal Studios and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. With interviews spanning multiple generations of artists, The Memphis Masters offers insight from the likes of Robert Trujillo (Metallica), Grace Potter, Matt Berninger (The National), Walshy Fire (Major Lazer), Steve Selvidge (The Hold Steady) and producer Boo Mitchell-all of whom were inspired by the label's music and the albums being reissued. The Memphis Masters also includes interviews with Stax legends like Steve Cropper, Big Star's Jody Stephens, James Alexander (the Bar-Kays) and Booker T. Jones, plus longtime label publicist Deanie Parker and songwriter Bettye Crutcher, who share their memories from the label's heyday.

With rollout beginning today (11/14), each episode-available on YouTube-will revolve around an album or collection from a singular artist or group on Stax's roster, starting with Melting Pot from Booker T. & the M.G.'s. Other titles covered include Gotta Groove from The Bar-Kays, Home from husband-and-wife songwriting duo Delaney & Bonnie, Who's Making Love from Johnnie Taylor and Victim of the Joke?...An Opera from acclaimed producer and songwriter David Porter. The series will take a broader view of The Staple Singers, who will be honored with a deluxe, seven-LP box set, Come Go With Me: The Stax Collection, available in early 2020. All of the standalone titles have been cut from their original analog tapes by Jeff Powell at Memphis' Take Out Vinyl and pressed on 180-gram vinyl at Memphis Record Pressing. The majority of the single albums will be available November 1st, while LPs from Porter and Taylor will be reissued on December 6th.

2019 marked the 50th anniversary of Stax beating the odds and thriving as an independent entity, following its split with Atlantic Records in a period called the Stax "Soul Explosion." Throughout the past months, Craft has paid tribute to the label and its artists with special reissues, box sets, playlists and more. Fittingly, The Memphis Masters will wind down the year-long celebration, as it pays homage to the timeless music and persevering spirit of Stax.

More on the artists and albums covered in The Memphis Masters:

Booker T. & the M.G.'s-Melting Pot: As the longtime house band for Stax, Booker T. & the M.G.'s not only helped shape the label's iconic sound, but also backed sessions by some of the biggest acts of the '60s-from Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, to Sam & Dave and Wilson Pickett. The instrumental group released several albums of their own, beginning with their 1962 debut, Green Onions-the title track of which became a huge hit for the band. The premiere episode of The Memphis Masters focuses on 1971's Melting Pot, which marked the group's final studio album to feature their classic lineup (Booker T. Jones on keyboards, Steve Cropper on guitar, Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass and Al Jackson Jr. on drums). Praised as one of the band's best albums by Rolling Stone and All Music, Melting Pot is comprised entirely of original material and finds the instrumental powerhouse digging deep into expansive jams, including the eight-minute-long title track, which became an underground hit and drove the album up to No. 2 on Billboard's R&B Albums chart.

The Bar-Kays-Gotta Groove: Formed in 1966, The Bar-Kays enjoyed success as session musicians at Stax and soon became the backing group for Otis Redding. In 1967, they released an instrumental debut, Soul Finger, scoring a hit with the title track. Tragically, just months later, the group's momentum was cut short when four members of the band were killed in a plane crash, along with Redding. Channeling their heartbreak, surviving members Ben Cauley and James Alexander rebuilt the Bar-Kays with new musicians, and by the end of the decade, they were back in the studio working with artists like Isaac Hayes. 1969's Gotta Groove was the group's first release featuring the new lineup, and it stands as a testament to their resilience and talent. AllMusic calls Gotta Groove "A celebration of life and music that ranks among the funkiest, hardest-driving LPs ever released under the Stax aegis."

Delaney & Bonnie-Home: Delaney & Bonnie were a blue-eyed soul duo comprised of married singer-songwriters Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett. Both artists came from impressive backgrounds (Delaney played with songwriter Leon Russell in the house band for the TV show Shindig!, while Bonnie performed with blues guitarist Albert King when she was just a teenager). Their debut album, 1969's Home, featured an impressive lineup of talent, including Russell, Booker T. & the M.G.'s and members of the Memphis Horns. Produced by Donald "Duck" Dunn and Don Nix, Home offers a selection of original material from the couple, plus songs by Steve Cropper and writing duo Isaac Hayes and David Porter. Following the release of Home, Delaney & Bonnie caught the ears of George Harrison and Eric Clapton, with whom they would soon collaborate, along with a rotating cast of musicians including Gregg and Duane Allman, Rita Coolidge and Dave Mason.

Johnnie Taylor-Who's Making Love: When Stax became an independent entity, it lost its impressive catalog of hits (by artists like Otis Redding, Carla Thomas and Sam & Dave) to Atlantic. Luckily, Johnnie Taylor came to the rescue, and gave the label a much-needed boost with his provocative 1968 single "Who's Making Love." The song peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped to bolster the label's profile (and finances). His album Who's Making Love was released months later and not only featured the popular title track but also an irresistible collection of bluesy songs penned by Booker T. Jones, Bettye Crutcher, Steve Cropper and the inimitable team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter. Highlights from the passionate singer's performance include the melancholic "Can't Trust Your Neighbor," the hopeful "Hold On This Time" and the single "Take Care of Your Homework."

David Porter-Victim of the Joke?...An Opera: Counted as one of the "100 Greatest Songwriters of All Time" by Rolling Stone, David Porter has penned decades of hits for artists like Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, James Brown and Céline Dion. In the 1960s, Porter established his career at Stax, working alongside writing partner Isaac Hayes. Together, the pair wrote over 200 songs, including Sam & Dave's "Soul Man" and "Hold On, I'm Comin'" and Carla Thomas' "B-A-B-Y." Much like Hayes, the songwriter also took time to record as a solo artist, and this ambitious 1971 concept album stands as a testament to his endless creative spirit. Victim of the Joke?...An Opera pairs original pop-infused soul music and covers (including an infectious rendition of The Beatles' "Help!") with interludes of dialogue to tell the story of a love affair.

The Staple Singers-Come Go With Me: The Stax Collection: The Staple Singers were not only one of music's greatest gospel and soul groups, but they were also formidable voices in the Civil Rights movement-many of their songs preaching a message of empowerment and racial equality. By the time the Chicago-based group signed to Stax in 1968, the family quartet-helmed by patriarch Roebuck "Pops" Staples, with daughters Cleotha and Mavis, and son Pervis (later replaced by his sister Yvonne)-had graduated from the gospel circuit, becoming well known in the counterculture and folk scenes, and performing alongside major rock acts. The forthcoming seven-LP box set, Come Go With Me: The Stax Collection, presents the Staples' output for Stax, spanning 1968-1974, and features their biggest hits, including "I'll Take You There," "Respect Yourself" and "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)." Pressed on 180-gram vinyl and cut from the original analog tapes, each of the group's six studio albums' jackets has been painstakingly replicated from the original pressings. The final, seventh disc offers rarities, non-album singles and live recordings from the 1972 Wattstax music festival. The collection also includes archival photos and new liner notes from American music specialist and curator Levon Williams (formerly of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the National Museum of African American Music) and folklorist, ethnomusicologist and writer Dr. Langston Wilkins.



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