Elvis at Stax

In 1973, one Memphis legend, Elvis Presley, visited another Memphis legend, Stax Records, to create music.

This month marks the 45th anniversary of Elvis’ first sessions at Stax.

Brother and sister team Estelle Axton and Jim Stewart created Stax in Memphis in the late 1950s. The studio saw successes and failures throughout the years, but the music created there still lives on.

Jim Stewart created Satellite Records in 1957, and his sister Estelle Axton joined in on the business in 1960. It was renamed Stax, which was a combination of their last names.

Jim Stewart created Satellite Records in 1957, and his sister Estelle Axton joined in on the business in 1960. It was renamed Stax, which was a combination of their last names.

Hit songs and albums released by Stax include Booker T. & the M.G.’s “Green Onions,” Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” “In the Midnight Hour” by Wilson Pickett, “Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes)” by Carla Thomas, “Hold On, I’m Comin” by Sam and Dave, “Knock on Wood” by Eddie Floyd, Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog,” Isaac Hayes’ “Hot Buttered Soul,” “I’ll Take You There” by Staples Singers and “Private Number” by William Bell and Judy Clay – just to name a few.

The powerhouse team of David Porter and Isaac Hayes wrote and produced many of these hits, and Hayes, of course, went on to enjoy his own music career. Hayes scored the biggest Stax hit with “Theme from Shaft” in 1971.

Isaac Hayes and David Porter helped create iconic music at Stax. Porter has been a special guest during Elvis Week. He was also featured in the recent HBO documentary about Elvis, "The Searcher."

Isaac Hayes and David Porter helped create iconic music at Stax. Porter has been a special guest during Elvis Week. He was also featured in the recent HBO documentary about Elvis, “The Searcher.”

Enter Elvis

1972 and 1973 were exciting years for Elvis. He ended 1972 with the success of his concert documentary, “Elvis on Tour,” which would go on to win a Golden Globe Award. 1973 kicked off with a bang, with the massive success of his “Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite” special.

He spent much of the first half of ’73 on tour, but he knew he needed to go into the studio to record music for RCA. He didn’t feel like returning to Nashville or Los Angeles studios, though; he hoped for something a little closer to home. Elvis had recorded in Memphis previously, and decided to give Stax a try.

Stax was located in a former movie theater on McLemore Avenue in Memphis.

Stax was located in a former movie theater on McLemore Avenue in Memphis.

Stax was just a 10-minute drive from Graceland, so recording there allowed him to enjoy the comforts of home and to spend time with his daughter, Lisa Marie, while also getting the work completed.

Typically, only Stax artists used the label’s studio, but they were excited to work with the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Hayes graciously rearranged his own recording schedule to allow Elvis to record at the studio.

Elvis' hit "Promised Land" was recorded at Stax.

Elvis’ hits “Promised Land” and “It’s Midnight” were recorded at Stax.

Elvis’ first Stax sessions took place on July 20-25, and, of course, late at night, as Elvis was a night owl. He was joined in the studio by guitarists James Burton and Reggie Young, drummer Ronnie Tutt, bass player Tommy Cogbill, Charlie Hodge on acoustic guitar, Bobby Emmons on organ, pianist Bobby Wood, drummer Jerry Carrigan, and background vocalists J.D. Sumner & The Stamps, Kathy Westmoreland, Mary Greene and Mary & Ginger Holladay. Stax musicians Donald “Duck” Dunn, Al Jackson, Bobby Manual and Johnny Christopher also played on a few of these sessions, too.

Stax had a few technical limitations that created problems for Elvis and his band, but they still recorded some great tunes. Songs recorded in July ’73 include “I’ve Got a Thing About You Baby,” “For Ol’ Times Sake,” “Raised on Rock,” “Find Out What’s Happening,” “Sweet Angeline,” “Girl of Mine,” “If You Don’t Come Back,” “It’s Diff’rent Now,” “Take Good Care of Her” and “Three Corn Patches.” The recording sessions ended on a bit of a sour note, as one of Elvis’ personal microphones was stolen after a session.

"If You Talk in Your Sleep" and "Help Me" were two songs Elvis cut at Stax.

“If You Talk in Your Sleep” and “Help Me” were two songs Elvis cut at Stax.

Elvis returned to Stax on December 10-16 for another round of sessions. He used many of the same band members as he had before and included bass player Norbert Putnam and pianist David Briggs. This week of sessions yielded songs like “I Got a Feeling in My Body,” “My Boy,” “Promised Land,” “Help Me,” “It’s Midnight,” “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues,” “If You Talk in Your Sleep,” “You Asked Me To,” “Loving Arms,” “Love Song of the Year,” “Mr. Songman,” “Thinking About You,” “Your Love’s Been a Long Time Coming,” “There’s a Honky Tonk Angel,” “If That Isn’t Love,” “Spanish Eyes” and “Talk About the Good Times.”

The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, who loved so many kinds of music, recorded rock, country, gospel and soul numbers at Stax. These sessions gave Elvis plenty of material to release over the next several years.

"Raised on Rock," which Elvis recorded at Stax, was written by Mark James, who also wrote "Suspicious Minds."

“Raised on Rock,” which Elvis recorded at Stax, was written by Mark James, who also wrote “Suspicious Minds.”

The original Stax studio was demolished in 1989, but in 2003, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music was created as the first and only museum dedicated to soul music. The museum is a replica of the original studio and is located on the grounds of the old studio. Stax has grown to include the Stax Music Academy and the Soulsville Charter School. In after-school programs and summer camps, the Stax Music Academy teaches voice and instrumental technique, as well as audio engineering, to high school students. Stax Music Academy Students have performed for many celebrities and dignitaries, including Oprah, Bono, Mavis Staples, Stevie Wonder and more. The group helped Graceland celebrate the grand opening of our new entertainment and exhibit complex, Elvis Presley’s Memphis, with several high-energy performances during opening weekend.

Learn more about Elvis’ music career at Elvis: The Entertainer Career Museum at Elvis Presley’s Memphis at Graceland! Start planning your visit now at Graceland.com.

You can also hear Stax stories directly from Ronnie Tutt and Norbert Putnam – they are both guests at Elvis Week 2018. Go to ElvisWeek.com now to get your tickets!


2 Comments

  1. stephen stathis

    Sweet Angeline & If That Isn’t Love: two outstanding and underrated songs. EP baring his soul and pain on songs from here until the end. Music was his only escape: his only way of expressing and being himself as if that wasn’t possible in real time.Was Estelle Axton: any relation to the Mae Axton family? Mae wrote Heartbreak Hotel.

  2. Elizabeth Lazenby

    Stax had such a rich history of great music and Elvis was the icing on the cake!

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