Continued from Part One…
I remember when he first came to Stax. I remember when he had hair. I remember when he didn’t have but two shirts. He would wear one color one day and the other one the next day. I remember when he had a pair of khaki pants, and he had sneakers that had no shoestrings in them. These are the ones you slide your feet into. And they were turned up kind of like bananas.
I remember seeing Isaac very intensely studying everything that was offered in Studio A when he was in there, and I remember when he didn’t have a ride to the studio. Isaac, believe it or not, he was a funny person. He was just like a kid in a lot of ways, because he would get tickled at something. He couldn’t contain himself. It was beautiful. It was refreshing. He wasn’t inhibited. And he was inviting. He had an open mind and, if you wanted to see how I structured my chords on the piano, I remember how he did his when he first came in the door. He was wrong too!
I saw Isaac transition from the person who had nothing but talent, a desire to improve his station and life, a person who benefited from instructors and people around him who loved him who knew that this person was somebody special, and they couldn’t necessarily put their finger on it except that they knew that he loved him some music, and it was seeping out, but they didn’t have…It had not been defined. It had not been turned into what he and David Porter, Booker T, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, and Al Jackson invented. And that was the Stax style of music also known as the Memphis sound during the era of rhythm and blues.
I watched him gain his confidence and grow because he was provided an opportunity and challenged to take a Sam & Dave, for example, and work with David Porter who was also learning and benefiting from the relationship that he had from Estelle Axton. She used to call him up into Satellite Records where we all worked for a while, to make him listen to what made a hit record and to dissect it. That’s what they would do.
He was very humble. I think that he was a perfect student, because he might have questioned, but he never criticized, not in my presence. Which put him in a unique position to have those masters, the local musicians who taught these guys. They taught James Alexander, they taught Isaac Hayes. He was like a sponge and humble and eager to be a sponge. But, the thing that blows my mind about Isaac, Bill, is that he sucked all of that up and reconfigured it and created Isaac Hayes, the Black Moses.
Isaac had one fatal flaw. In my personal opinion, and that was his inability to say no, and I think that that comes about when a person has come from nothing, has come up the rough side of the mountain and is grateful to have been blessed with certain opportunities and gifts, and they can see someone else without and have empathy. But, that was Isaac. If he had been able to say no, I think he would have gone out of the business with the rest of us with everything that he needed to sustain him until he could make his next move.
None of us had ever built a museum before, not even the design architects. But one of the design architects grew up in the neighborhood, and he’s passed by there, and the other architect lived in Memphis, so he was familiar with it.
As we were building, everything was evolving in that museum. Of course, Andy Cates was the project developer and, fortunately, he was flexible and willing to envision what we were feeling, those of us who had been there. Steve and I had dialogue. We argued about what color the carpet was, we argued about whether or not there was a heater, ‘How many heaters were there in Studio A? Where were the heaters?’ You know?
I’m going to tell you something. There were days when I would put on a hard hat, and I would walk into that place, and I would cry all the way through it, and the day that I walked through there and I did not cry, I knew that we had nailed it. I knew that people coming through there would feel a little bit, at least a little bit, of what it was we used to feel when we would go there to work every day.
It was built in a specific place that was bigger than Memphis, Tennessee but small enough to be intimate and…What is that word that you do when you have children? You guide them, you nurture them. You nurture them, and you watch them grow. All of those things, that is what makes Stax Records unique, that it was…It came about at a time when very few people felt it was important to give the oppressed an opportunity to be musically, culturally, creatively expressive without being judgmental and to respect the cultural difference and commonalities and to make it a part of the founder’s overall vision, and founder is Jim Stewart. And to be nurtured by the co-owner, Estelle Axton.
And I don’t understand why it is that Memphis, where all of this happened, didn’t get the message sooner than it did and, even today, it does not do everything that it can do to preserve and to benefit from what makes it unique. We gave it legitimacy and, you know, that’s not to say that Beale Street and what have you wasn’t important, but they were…Beale Street was branded through osmosis. We made a deliberate effort to invent something, to develop something, to create something that was uniquely Memphis, and we had to do it, because that’s the nature of the music business. Everything was aligned for us: the stars, the moon. We were in the right place in the universe at the right time with the right spirit, and we demonstrated what can happen when people will just let go of the minutia in life and appreciate and respect people as humans that just do the right thing.
One of my greatest fears, having enjoyed my second life at Stax Records over these past 20 years, was that, one day, we would find ourselves in the company of a [business] that was more interested in capitalism than our culture and our music and our story. And I am so grateful to God that we are affiliated with Concord. Because Written in Their Soul is a fine example of why Concord is important, why they got the message, how they understand and respect the product, the catalog that they have. They’re not trying to erase a damn thing, you understand what I’m saying? They are showcasing, they are helping to preserve something that is unique and valued by people who had an opportunity to contribute to it. And I take my hat off to them.