A Houston Icon Passes

Rest in peace Don Luis, the "Old Violin Man" of southeast Houston.

It got so bad that MG's drummer Al Jackson Jr. personally froze out bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn — a man he'd spent hundreds of hours on the road and in the studio with — because "someone else had said he was a racist." Stax needed help, badly.

That help came in the form of the 6-foot-5 frame of Al Bell, hired by Stewart to inject life into the studio. With a background in promotions and a passion for preaching, the whirlwind former DJ built up Stax with an ambitious expansion and marketing plan, wheeling and dealing with distributors, investors, other record companies, banks and influential music movers.

Soon Stax was back on track, selling more records than ever (often with new acts) and making a worldwide performing star out of staff writer Isaac Hayes, whose distinct bald/shirtless/gold-chained appearance and music got him dubbed "Black Moses."

Peter Beste

It came at a price, though. Drugs, payola, spotty bookkeeping, and questionable hires (some with forceful, thuggish ways of getting things done) kept things on edge. R&B/Soul music was out, and suddenly, disco and dance music was in.

Overextended bank loans, lawsuits and countersuits, a general decline in morale, racial prejudice on the part of Memphis institutions, and Bell's high-living/high-flying style made it all come crashing down, with Bell being led away and the studio padlocked, taken over by creditors and becoming the subject of a federal lawsuit.

Stewart — whom Bell had bought out years earlier but who nonetheless returned to put up all his monies and possessions as collateral to help the studio — lost everything. He was eventually evicted, with his wife and three children, from the luxury home they lived in.

The Stax studio, record shop and offices — neglected for so many years — were eventually torn down and rebuilt to specification years later. They now house the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the Stax Music Academy.

The most important legacy of Stax — the music — not only remains, but is as vibrant as ever. Anytime the radio plays, or someone performs, "Green Onions," "Hold On, I'm Comin'" "Soul Man," "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," "I'll Take You There," "Knock on Wood," "Respect Yourself" or even "The Theme from Shaft," Stax lives again.

Make no mistake, Gordon's book is an amazing and important read. But it only makes you want to reach for the CD shelf to hear the music of Stax all the more.

And that's the best thing a book about music can ever hope to accomplish.

Ask Willie D

Missing America
A reader landed a sweet gig overseas, but it's all work and no play.

Dear Willie D:

At 22 years old, I came straight out of college and landed a job in China with a technology firm that pays me 120K per year. I had to move away, leaving my girlfriend and family behind in Houston. It has been very hard on me because of the language barrier and because I didn't know a single soul when I arrived. I've been here for eight months and I still don't know anybody. So I have no friends. All I do is work and sleep.

The only American channels on TV in the corporate apartment I live in are CNN and MTV, but the MTV channel is in Chinese. The Wi-Fi connection works sometimes, but mostly not. I'm bored out of my mind. I miss my girlfriend and my family. I want to go back home but if I do, my mother and father will be disappointed. They think I'm Steve Jobs or somebody. What would you do in my position?


I would get that money.

Ask Willie D appears Thursdays on Rocks Off.

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help
Houston Concert Tickets

Concert Calendar

  • April
  • Sun
  • Mon
  • Tue
  • Wed
  • Thu
  • Fri
  • Sat