One of the projects that we feel proudest of is “Take Me To The River: A Southern Soul Story”. It was a labour of love and a lot of people were very appreciative of it, justifying our own confidence in the project. In the wake of its success we thought it would be good to do some single CD follow-up projects looking at specific areas of the Southern Soul world; unfortunately other things got in the way, including the rather wondrous opportunities we have had with the chaps at Fame, so we put the idea on the back burner until we could do it properly. With “Nobody Wins” I hope we have been able to do so.
Focussing on the output of Stax Records may seem like shooting fish in a barrel, but by 1968 a lot had changed at the label that had effectively codified Southern Soul music with William Bell’s ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water’, and then took it to the world via Otis Redding. Otis had died in a plane crash in 1967 and then, at the termination of the label’s distribution deal with Atlantic, Stax had been left without its back catalogue. To combat these problems label head Al Bell had formulated a plan to make it a full-service record label, recording, manufacturing, distributing and marketing the recordings. To make this viable Stax had to compete with the biggest R&B label Motown and release far more material. With this is mind producer Don Davis was brought in to add some Detroit know-how, and music and ideas were imported from all over the USA.
Stax may not have been exclusively releasing Southern music any more but it was still a Southern label. Most of the acts were came from the local area, and as the biggest label outside R&B’s traditional Northern strongholds, it was a magnet for anyone from the region who hoped to get a record deal. On top of that the Southern sound was so successful that even records that were recorded in other parts of the country tried to emulate the sound (noticeable on Calvin Scott’s Stax album for example). “Nobody Wins” gives an overview of the prevailing developments within Southern Soul, which show a move from a Stax-dominated landscape with our earliest productions, to something that ends up looking towards the styles being championed by Hi Records on the other side of Memphis.
The music is uniformly excellent and sometimes, as on Johnny Daye’s ‘Stay Baby Stay’, William Bell’s ‘Loving On Borrowed Time’ or ‘Shouldn’t I Love Him’ by Mable John, transcendent. It is a great treat to be able to spotlight neglected cuts from Willie Singleton, Mack Rice or Freddie Waters, which have been hidden away as B-sides or on expensive box-sets. We’ve also discovered some previously unreleased gems from the previously unknown Sylvia and the Blue Jays, and from Bettye Crutcher and Chuck Brooks. It is also great to be able to focus on some better-known tracks by the Soul Children and Ollie & The Nightingales and bring them together with the other tracks featured here. From start to finish this is great, great soul music.
By Dean Rudland