EXCLUSIVE: Stax Records, the label responsible for hits such as Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” and Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man,” is getting the docuseries treatment.
HBO is behind a new multi-part series telling the story of the fabled Memphis-based label.
Jamila Wignot — who directed Ailey, a portrait of the legendary choreographer Alvin Ailey, and has worked on HBO’s Axios — is directing, with OJ: Made in America helmer Ezra Edelman and producer Caroline Waterlow exec producing. Nigel Sinclair and Nicholas Ferrall of White Horse Pictures, the company behind Martin Scorsese’s doc No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, also are EPs.
The series will explore the rise and fall of the label, which was founded in 1957 by Jim Stewart. Stewart, a country music fan, and his sister Estelle Axton, who mortgaged her house to afford recording equipment, released “Fool in Love” by the Veltones under its original name Satellite Records. They then took over an old movie theater in Memphis with plans to turn it into a recording studio and discovering a coterie of R&B acts.
They then released Rufus & Carla’s “Cause I Love You” before changing its name to Stax and signing a distribution deal with Atlantic Records.
It went on to release records by Booker T. & the M.G.’s – Booker T was originally a session musician for the label – Redding, who was officially on Stax’s sister label Volt; Isaac Hayes; the Staple Singers; and Sam & Dave. Al Bell joined in 1965 and became co-owner in 1969 when Axton became unhappy with her brother’s vision for the company.
Redding’s death in a 1967 plane crash and the sale of Atlantic Records to Warner Bros., which saw the label sell more records than they ever had but also led to the discovery that Stewart had signed a disastrous deal giving over ownership of his masters, caused setbacks for the company, which was not able to achieve the same level of success as its Detroit rival Motown.
In 1972, the label launched Wattstax, a benefit concert to celebrate the anniversary of the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles. It featured Hayes, The Staple Singers and a young Richard Pryor and was filmed for a seminal documentary.
However, in 1975-76 the label was forced into bankruptcy.
The untitled documentary series will tell this story and will feature rare and never-before-seen archive material.
It is the latest doc on the record label; Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon directed Respect Yourself in 2007.
The docuseries, which is in production, comes from HBO Documentary Films in association with Concord Originals — the TV and film arm of Stax’s parent company — Polygram Entertainment and Warner Music Entertainment.
Rob Bowman, author of Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records, is serving as a consultant on the series, which is exec produced by Scott Pascucci, Sophia Dilley and Michele Smith for Concord Originals; Jody Gerson and David Blackman for Universal Music Group’s Polygram Entertainment; and Charlie Cohen and Ron Broitman for Warner Music Entertainment. David Peck, Jeanne Elfant Festa and Cassidy Hartmann will act as co-executive producers. Wignot also will serve as a producer on the project, alongside series producer Kara Elverson.
“In both the sound that fueled its rise and the events that triggered its demise, Stax Records manifested the soul of America,“ said Edelman. “There is no better person to bring this quintessential American story to HBO’s viewers than Jamila Wignot, whose work I’ve long admired.”
Added Wignot: “As a lifelong fan of Stax Records, what has most inspired me about the label is its defiance. The individuals who built Stax knew their worth and had a willingness to risk everything to make something on their own terms.”
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