We’re continuing to look at the 60th anniversary releases from legendary R&B powerhouse label Stax Records with a single-CD or LP collection that just might make a perfect stocking stuffer!
Stax Country (CR 00009), from Craft Recordings, takes a fresh look at some of the other, non-R&B music emanating from the corridors of Stax’s studios on East McLemore Avenue – in particular some “Sweet Country Music.” That’s the title of the twangy ditty recorded in 1975 by Becki Bluefield which leads off this compilation. Though Bluefield was an accomplished songwriter herself with credits including Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn’s “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man,” she didn’t write the mellow anthem; rather, Tony Lordi did. It’s one of 16 tunes here from the mainly lesser-known artists who released records on Stax’s Truth, Enterprise, and Hip labels. Although none dented the charts, these varied nuggets are a snapshot of the various strains of country music proliferating in the early 1970s…and just because they’re country, doesn’t mean they’re not filled with soul!
Country wasn’t a stretch for Stax; before teaming with his sister Estelle Axton and renaming the company Stax, founder Jim Stewart had released some C&W sides on his Satellite Records label. One artist on Stax Country, Daaron Lee (real name: Billy Lee Riley) had a history with the company. The typically astute liner notes by Colin Escott reveal that he was the artist who walked out on a session, leaving Booker T. & The MG’s to (fortuitously!) cook up “Green Onions” on the spot. His 1969 rendition of Lee Hazlewood’s “Long Black Train” is one of the liveliest and most atmospheric cuts here.
Like Becki Bluefield, Paul Craft had a slew of songwriting credits including tunes for Eagles, Bobby Bare, and Linda Ronstadt. He had less luck at Stax, but his laconic, steel-flecked ode “For Linda (Child in the Cradle)” has its homespun charms. Joyce Cobb’s “Your Love” has a string-laden, countrypolitan Nashville flavor and a chugging beat, while Bob Morrison’s sing-along “The River’s Too Wide” from Karen Casey might have been a hit if not for earlier versions by Jim Mundy and Olivia Newton-John. Another songstress, Paige O’Brian, came to Stax by way of Florida, and brought to the Enterprise imprint her breathy hush of a voice on her paean to being a “Satisfied Woman.”
Singer-songwriter Eddie Bond’s “That Glass” was a slice of country heartbreak that wouldn’t have been out of place on the airwaves in 1963 or even 1953; its retro sound didn’t earn it many champions in 1973, however. Cliff Cochran’s “All the Love You’ll Ever Need” also had a timeless quality upon its release in 1973. That’s not surprising, considering its pedigree: the tune was produced by Cliff’s famous cousin Hank Cochran, and written by Hank’s wife Jeannie Seely. But despite its high quality, it, too, disappeared. In demand pianist-turned-producer Larry Butler helmed husband-and-wife Frank Hobson and Becky Durning’s take on the Red Lane oldie “A Truer Love You’ll Never Find,” but they weren’t destined to become the next George and Tammy.
Perhaps the most familiar figure on this set is O.B. McClinton, hardly a household name. Inspired by Charley Pride’s success, the African-American singer-songwriter followed his dreams to record C&W and was signed by Stax. He released his first of four Enterprise albums in 1971. His selection here, “The Finer Things in Life,” was from the pen of Jim Weatherly (“Midnight Train to Georgia”) but remained on the shelf. Weatherly operated at the crossroads of country, pop, and soul, and the genres met, too, on Danny Bryan’s laid-back 1973 version of The Temptations’ “My Girl” heard here.
Stax Country offers a bona fide novelty in the form of Roland Eaton’s “Hippie from the Hills,” an answer song to Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee.” Stax purchased the master from Capitol, but never released it, until now. In the same lighthearted vein is Roger Hallmark’s “Truck Driver’s Heaven,” with its tongue-twisting, fast-paced lyric and melody. (The onetime Brian Hyland bassist actually had been a trucker, per Escott’s notes!) Connie Eaton (no relation to Roland) was the daughter of Grand Ole Opry star Bob Eaton; her silken-voiced “I Wanna Be Wrong Right Now” is a sweetly winsome effort. Before guitarist Bobby Manuel produced Rick Dees’ infamous “Disco Duck,” he was the producer of Dale Yard’s bouncy instrumental by the name of “Purple Cow.” Clearly, he had a knack for novelty tunes with animals in the title. There’s even a holiday tune here – the three-hanky weeper “A Mom and Dad for Christmas,” written, produced, and sung by Lee Denson.
Make no mistake, this release is manna for collectors; some of these singles would be nearly impossible to find in their original vinyl iterations. The sonics are superior here, too, thanks to the mastering of Paul Blakemore. While the majority of the tracks aren’t distinctive enough to have become hits, they’re all solidly enjoyable excursions down the roads that might-have-been for the powerhouse R&B label. A visit to Stax Country is a most pleasurable one, indeed!