Stax Records, originally named Satellite Records, was founded in Memphis Tennessee in 1957. Satellite’s early releases were of the country and rockabilly genre. Jim Stewart, its founder, was a white country fiddle player at the time.
Satellite entered the rhythm and blues (r&b) market in 1959. Their first r&b release was the Veltones’ song “Fool in Love.” At the same time, Stewart met with Memphis disc jockey and r&b singer Rufus Thomas. Thomas and his daughter recorded a song in 1961 entitled, “Cause I Love You.” It became a big regional hit, and was picked up for national distribution by Atlantic Records.
1961 was also the year when Satellite Records changed their name to Stax Records. This was a result of a complaint filed by another company by the same name. Stax was a combination of the names of the two owners, Jim Stewart and his sister, Estelle Axton.
By 1962, Stax had transformed itself from a regional label into a national one, on par with Motown and Atlantic Records. Black musicians who were employed there felt that they were treated as equals, and had the freedom to be creative.
Unlike Motown, Stax was not formed as a black music label. Jim Stewart was intent on getting the best talent he could find, whether the musicians were black or white. Stax’s house band, Booker T. and the MG’s, was integrated.
Stax had an onsite record store to test consumer reaction to it, immediately after one was released. The onsite store was run by Estelle Axton.
Otis Redding and Stax, following on the heels of Motown’s success in London in 1965, embarked on a tour of London in 1966. The size of the crowds seeing him perform were varied. However the highlight of this tour was a performance on a popular British TV show, Ready, Steady, Go! As Mark Ribowsky put it in his book, Dreams to Remember: Otis Redding, Stax Records, and the Transformation of Southern Soul, “the performance came as a revelation to many Brits who had never heard, much less seem, him, but now knew that he was unbelievably cool.”
However it was Redding’s appearance at the Summer of Love Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 that elevated his popularity among white audiences. This was a gamble, to find out if a southern soul singer could find success in an audience of white rock and roll music fans.
The results of that first came after Melody Maker, a notable music publication at the time, noted that Otis had replaced Elvis Presley as the world’s top male vocalist. A booked tour of the state of California brought him to many nightclubs. Renting a manager’s houseboat near San Francisco, he came up with his most widely noted song, Sitting at the Dock of the Bay.
Sadly, Redding died long before his career got a chance to take off. He was killed in a plane crash in that same year, 1967, at the age of twenty-six.
Below is a video of Redding performing a cover of the Rolling Stone’s song, Satisfaction. It was performed at the Monterey Pop Festival, which was mentioned above.