While I always enjoyed the Stax artists, and still do, when I dug deeper into Hi Records catalog, I found many of my all-time favorites......Syl Johnson, the incredible O.V. Wright, Ann Peebles, and Otis Clay. There was something about the combination of these magnificent singers, the smooth production from Willie Mitchell, the amazing Hi Rhythm Section, and the peerless songwriting that really grabbed me. That was also the combination with Stax, but maybe the music from Hi resonated with me more because it was a little more from my time....similar to the modern music that I had listened to. I still loved both, and still listen to both, but the music from Hi's tunes (particularly the Rev. Charles Hodges' keyboards, which still draw goosebumps when I hear them) sealed the deal for me.
Of course, most of these guys are no longer with us.....fortunately we still have a few who are still performing.....just a few years ago, I went to see former Stax artist William Bell, who is still getting it done as well as he ever did. Al Green is still fairly active, having returned to secular music many years ago, and so is Syl Johnson. I actually saw a performance on public television a few weeks ago from Ann Peebles at Ground Zero in Clarksdale from several years ago, and she was still wonderful.
Over the past couple of years, there have been some great albums of Memphis soul released. Boz Scaggs released Memphis, a fine tribute to Memphis Soul a few years ago. Tad Robinson pays tribute to the sound on a regular basis, as does Robert Cray. The Sensational Barnes Brothers, a Memphis-based gospel duo, released one of the best albums of last year......Nobody's Fault But My Own, a stunning gospel album that sounded like it came right out of Stax Records. William Bell released This Is Where I Live on a rejuvenated Stax Records in 2016 and it was a fantastic return to form.
|Don Bryant - 1970's|
|Ann Peebles & Don Bryant|
In the mid-2000's, a group of Memphis-based musicians called The Bo-Keys emerged on the scene. Featuring newcomers and veterans of the Memphis soul and blues scene, the group released a couple of albums in 2004 and 2011. The first was mostly instrumental with just a few spoken-word asides, and the second one featured a few vocal tracks from Clay and Bell. The third release in 2016, Heartaches By The Number, was an incredible foray into country-soul, covering ten country music classics....nine of which featured vocals. Two of The Bo-Keys, bassist/producer Scott Bomar and former Hi drummer Howard Grimes talked Bryant into singing the title track, and sing it he did!!