CAN I GET A WITNESS-STAX SOUTHERN GROOVE.
Can I Get A Witness-Stax Southern Groove.
Label: Kent Soul.
Satellite Records was founded in 1957 by Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton and four years later, in 1961, the label changed its name to Stax Records. The newly named label was then joined by Volt Records which was its sister label. This was the start of a new era.
Little did anyone realise that when Satellite Records became Stax Records in 1961 that over the next ten years it would become one of the most important, influential and successful Southern Soul labels.
That’s no wonder given the artists that were signed to Stax Records. It was home to everyone from Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes to Sam and Dave, The Soul Children, Eddie Floyd and William Bell to Booker T and The MGs. They played their part in the rise and rise of Stax Records which became one of the greatest ever soul labels.
Sixty years after Satellite Records became Stax Records, Kent Soul recently released a new twenty track compilation Can I Get A Witness-Stax Southern Groove. There’s eleven previously unreleased tracks from the likes of The Soul Children, Little Milton, The Emotions, The Sweet Inspirations, The Nightingales and Frederick Knight. The other nine tracks feature contributions from Eddie Floyd, R.B. Hudmon, The Rance Allen Group and Eric Mercury. There’s deep cuts, album tracks and dancefloor fillers on this compilation that’s full of rarities and hidden gems on the compilation.
After leaving Chess Records, Little Milton signed to Stax and began the next chapter in his career. One of the tracks he recorded and produced early in his time at the label was Bad Water which opens Can I Get A Witness-Stax Southern Groove. He would go on to record two albums and a string of singles including several future soul classics. However, his cover this Jackie DeShannon, Jimmy Holiday and Randy Myers song was never released and makes its debut on the compilation. The arrangement is funky with a horn arrangement that could only have been recorded in Memphis. They’re the perfect accompaniment to Little Milton’s impassioned vocal as he combines blues and soul on a track that sets the bar high for the rest of the compilation.
Eddie Floyd’s long and illustrious career began in 1956 and ten years later he enjoyed his biggest 1966 hit single Knock On Wood. It kickstarted his career at Stax when it reached number twenty-six on the US Billboard 100 and topped the US R&B charts. Soon, the Detroit born singer was playing an important part in the Stax story. He was a prolific artist and many of his recordings were never released. This included Can We Talk This Over which lay unreleased until it featured on 5,000 Volts Of Southern Soul in 1998. It’s a hook-laden and memorable slice of dancefloor friendly soul that could’ve given the talented soul man another hit single.
There’s two previously unreleased tracks from The Nightingales who signed to Stax in 1964 when they were known as The Dixie Nightingales and three years later crossed over and started singing secular music. This resulted in a change in lineup with Quincy Billops formerly of The Mad Lads taking over lead vocal duties. That was the end of the changes as the group become known as Ollie and The Nightingales. Their contribution to the compilation is an unreleased track The Natural You. This rarity features a soulful vocal powerhouse and lush sweeping strings.
Later, Ollie and The Nightingales changed their name to The Nightingales and worked with producer Mack Rice. They recorded Burning On Both Ends and Slow Down which benefits from strings and horns and epitomises everything that’s good about Memphis soul. Sadly, neither track was released and make a welcome debut on Can I Get A Witness-Stax Southern Groove.
I Wanna Make Up (Before We Break Up) was released by Major Lance as a single on Volt in 1972. The hooks haven’t been spared by producer Don Davis who brought onboard the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section for the recording of what was one of four singles the Major recorded for Stax.
Nowadays, The Soul Children are regarded as one of the most important and were one groups on Stax. The group was brought together by Isaac Hayes and David Porter after the departure of Sam and Dave. They group went on to release four albums and were recording their fifth album when the label became insolvent. By then, the group had enjoyed a string of successful singles. However, one of the unreleased tracks from The Soul Children’s final session for Stax was You Ain’t Playing With No Toy which is a captivating reminder of the group at their soulful best.
Fredrick Knight signed to the Stax in 1972 but when he released the medley of Passing Thru/World Keeps Turning as a single it was on the Truth imprint. The version on the compilation is an extended version with the ballad and is quite different to much of the music Stax was releasing. Although Passing Thru is a ballad, there’s a slightly tougher, edgier sound in parts before it gives way to World Keeps Turning. The result is a a groundbreaking track that was ahead of its time.
The Emotions from the Windy City of Chicago signed to Stax in 1969 and enjoyed a five year spell with the Memphis-based label. During this period, they recorded two albums and around a dozen singles. There was also a number of songs that were recorded and never released. This includes Ain’t Enough Hours which was produced by Isaac Hayes and David Porter but was never finished. However, the song is still a tantalising taste of what The Emotions were capable of during their Stax years.
Originally, the members of The Sweet Inspirations were top session singers in New York. The group was formed in 1967 and included Cissy Houston. By the time they signed to Stax and recorded Don’t Fight The Feeling with David Porter and Ronnie Williams they were a trio. It’s a soulful and funky song that makes its debut on the compilation and is a reminder of an underrated group whose Stax singles and albums are often overlooked.
Soulful and funky describes Jean Knight’s Helping Man which was released as a single by Stax in 1972. It wasn’t recorded in Memphis. Instead, the song was cut at Malaco’s Studio, in Jackson, Mississippi, with Wardell Quezergue arranging and producing this hidden gem.
Closing Can I Get A Witness-Stax Southern Groove is Leaning On Your Undying Love by Shack. This is a demo version of the song and one can only wonder what it would’ve sounded like if completed? Maybe it’s a case of what might have been for Shack?
For fans of Stax and its various imprints Can I Get A Witness-Stax Southern Groove will be welcome release which they will embrace and enjoy. It features demos, rarities, singles and also hidden gems aplenty among the unreleased tracks. There’s contributions on the compilation from familiar faces and others who played just a walk-on part in the Stax story. They’re responsible for a mixture of ballads or dancefloor friendly tracks including many which were good enough to release as a single. With a number of the tracks it’s a case of wondering what might have been if these tracks had been released as singles?
The quality of the twenty tracks on Can I Get A Witness-Stax Southern Groove prove that there’s a lot more music in the Stax vaults waiting to be unearthed. Hopefully, compiler Dean Rudland dig even deeper and Kent Soul will release a followup to Can I Get A Witness-Stax Southern Groove which is one of the finest soul compilation of recent months and to cherish and enjoy.
Can I Get A Witness-Stax Southern Groove.