Stax Records: New York’s Quintessential Soul Label

By Phin Upham

Stax Records began life in 1957 as Satellite Records. It didn’t become “Stax” until it changed its name in 1961. By that point, it was a major factor in Southern Soul, specifically from Memphis, but they also specialized in gospel, funk, jazz and blues as well.

Although Stax is well known for its promotion of African American musical talent, the label was founded by two white siblings and business partners: Estelle Axton and her brother Jim Stewart.

Most people know of the label’s house band: Booket T and the M.G.’s, who released the quintessential funk theme: “Green Onions”.

Stax also became known for its racially diverse office staff, which cut through the tensions present in the South during that time period.

When Otis Redding died in 1967, Stax pivoted under the direction of Al Bell. The label had ended its deal recently with Atlantic Records and was looking to move out on its own. Stax had to compete with the growing MoTown Records label that presented a significant competitive threat to operations.

Unfortunately, Stax was not able to pull itself out of its downward slump and shut its doors in 1975.

Most of its catalogue was purchased by Fantasy Records in 1977. Stax was revived by 1978, and was signing new acts on a regular basis. Still, the company wasn’t producing new material and eventually become a re-issue label by the 1980s. It was acquired by Concord Records when the parent company bought Fantasy in 2004. Today, it’s still used to re-issue the hits of yesteryear but it uses current talent to sell its hit songs.

Phin Upham is an investor from NYC and SF. You may contact Phin on his Phin Upham website or Twitter page.