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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