Monday, September 17, 2007

On a mission

Novella Smith Arnold has been, as Jake and Elwood might say, "on a mission from God."

She's gotten the autographs of eighteen legendary Stax Records artists, producers, and recording engineers on a handsome new Gibson ES-335 guitar. It's in connection with SIMposium 2007, a national conference of CIOs and information technology (IT) leaders being held in Memphis next month.

In honor of founder Jim Stewart, and in celebration of Stax's 50th anniversary, the guitar is being auctioned online to benefit the students of Stax Music Academy studying the use of technology in music production and management. The sponsor is SIM Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Society for Information Management.

The cherry-red Gibson bears the documented autographs of legends in the recording industry: Jim Stewart, Al Bell (owner of Stax in the 1970s), John Fry (founder of Ardent Recording Studios), and "Papa" Willie Mitchell (Hi Records, Al Green's producer). Also mastering engineer Larry Nix; engineer/producer Terry Manning.

Stax artists who have signed the guitar include: Academy Award-winning superstar Isaac Hayes; his former songwriting partner David Porter ("Soul Man"); soul men Steve Cropper and "Duck" Dunn (Booker T. and the MGs, The Blues Brothers); James Alexander and Larry Dodson (The Bar-Kays); keyboardist Lester Snell; guitarist Bobby Manuel; keyboardist Marvell Thomas (son of Rufus); guitarist Charles "Skip" Pitts (wah-wah on "Shaft"); singer-songwriter Don Nix; Stax songwriter and Soulsville founder Deanie Parker.

SIM members and SIMposium 2007 registrants and sponsors can bid. If you are not a SIM member, you can still register for the conference. Check with your company's CIO or IT department to find who in your organization is already attending SIMposium 2007 and could bid on your behalf. If they're not registered, perhaps they ought to do so for the professional benefits. Note: Pre-conference registration (giving you the login ID to bid) closes Monday, October 1; after that you must wait a week and register on-site.

Society for Information Management / SIM International is an association of senior information technology (IT) executives, prominent academicians, select consultants, and other IT thought leaders built on the foundation of local chapters, who come together at the SIMposium conference each year to share and enhance their intellectual capital for the benefit of members and their organizations.

For more information about the guitar signings and/or to obtain photos for publication, contact the webmaster of this site (link in in the sidebar).

Photo: Four of the guitar signers appear together in this photo of the rehearsal for the Stax 50th Anniversary concert at the Memphis Orpheum, June 22. Left to right: Lester Snell (partially obscured), Skip Pitts, Isaac Hayes, and Bobby Manuel. They're playing the theme from Shaft.

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Story of the Stax-Studded Guitar

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This is the story, told in photos and her words, of how Novella got the autographs of 18 Stax Records-era living legends on a new Gibson guitar. Seen above with all the signatures, it is being auctioned for the benefit of students of of Stax Music Academy.

Click here to see the complete photo story.

[Novella:] I've known all of the signers since my days at Stax and some earlier. Asking them for their help is one thing, but actually meeting up with them for an autograph is quite another matter. Some live as far as Nashville or Little Rock. The artists are often on the road.

Jim Stewart
Founder of Stax Records

August 15, 2007. In spite of what I just said, Jim Stewart's rare autograph - the first one on the guitar - was the simplest to get. I just called him up and he graciously invited me and my husband to his home the very next day. He signed in his living room. Jim is quite camera-shy, so we didn't take his photograph.

About the same time, I got a tip that Steve Cropper might be coming to Ardent Studios in Memphis to record. I called the founder, John Fry. Another kind and gracious man, he made arrangements for us to meet Steve Cropper at his studio two days later.

Ardent Recording Studios

August 17, 2007. This is Ardent Studios, on Madison Ave. We were early, and it would be another hour or two before Steve Cropper and his friends arrived. From the waiting room you can glimpse Ardent's awards wall in the front foyer, with an old four-track Scully in the corner. While we were waiting, Stax Museum's archivist, Carol Drake, and their photographer showed up. The Ardent complex has a beautiful interior courtyard, surrounded by a glass-walled hallway.

Lester Snell

First to arrive was Lester Snell. Lester's been keyboardist for Isaac Hayes since around 1970. We're in an anteroom that used to be John Fry's executive office. The blue painter's tape you see what we used to arrange and organized the signatures.

Larry Nix

Larry Nix was the mastering engineer for Stax. His autograph can be seen etched into any Stax vinyl record; look for L.NIX near the label.

Terry Manning

Nobody was expecting Terry Manning today. He arrived with his wife (seen chatting with me and Larry in the waiting room). Terry was an engineer/producer for Stax, and is now with Compass Point Studios in Nassau, The Bahamas.

Steve "The Colonel" Cropper
Booker T. and the MGs

Booker T. and the MGs ("Green Onions") was Stax's first supergroup, evolving from the Mar-Keys. Steve Cropper played guitar in both. Later he was in the Blues Brothers Band, made famous by the Aykroyd/Belushi film. Did you know the Blues Brothers' music was mostly from Stax? Steve was the first to play our guitar. He gave it a quick tune-up and strummed a few bars of "Soul Man" for us.

Steve and his friends were at Ardent to do some recording with Guy Sebastion, the first Australian Idol (2003). Here you see Guy is flirting with me. Then I got both Steve and Guy to cuddle with me for a picture.

Donald "Duck" Dunn
Booker T. and the MGs

Duck Dunn's history parallels Steve Cropper's, playing bass for the Mar-Keys, the MGs, and the Blues Brothers.

After Duck signed, Steve was anxious to get into the studio and start work, but we harrassed him some more. Guy Sebastion is having his sketch done by a local artist. He seems to like it.

Steve has gotten settled in, working at the mixing console. The artist shows us some of his paintings of Memphis music celebrities. That's Carla Thomas in the foreground.

We had wanted John Fry's signature, but by then he was pretty busy so we saved him for a return trip. On the way out, I gave receptionist Mike a thanks and a hug for being so patient with us.

"Papa" Willie Mitchell
Record producer

We stopped by Royal Recording to get Willie Mitchell's autograph. He's the Hi Records producer who discovered and developed Al Green. He goes back even further in Memphis music history, having been a trumpet player and bandleader of some note. I won't say how old he is. He was recently honored by the Memphis chapter of the Recording Academy.


After a long day, we stopped for a late lunch at a famous soul food establishment, the Gay Hawk.

The story continues...

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