A showcase of the soulful side of the brilliant American Sound Studio session group, 1967-72, directed by Chips Moman and featuring top guitarist Reggie Young.
During the fabulous Highwaymen concert at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island, on 14 March 1990, thankfully preserved on Sony CD and DVD, Kris Kristofferson stopped the proceedings to give a shout-out to the backing musicians. “We’d like to introduce you to this all-star band behind us that Chips Moman put together for the tour and the album,” he said. “They’ve been kicking tail all over the country. Back there on the bass, Mike Leech; on drums, Gene Chrisman; Reggie Young on lead guitar; and on keyboards and vocals, Bobby Wood and Bobby Emmons.” The other Highwaymen were, of course, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. The core backing group was none other than the Memphis Boys. Who knew at the time? I wish I had.
Gradually, the Memphis Boys have become recognised as one of the most important 1960s studio groups ever, to rank with the top session musicians at FAME in Muscle Shoals, and Stax and Hi in Memphis. Ace Records has played its part in accelerating this growing awareness through “Memphis Boys: The Story of American Studios” (CDCHD 1330), released in 2012 to tie in with Roben Jones’ book. More recently, there have been the two releases by the studio group’s extraordinary guitarist Reggie Young: “Forever Young” (CDCHD 1500) and “Reggie Young: Session Guitar Star” (CDCHD 1537), lovingly compiled by Bob Dunham.
Now we are focusing primarily on the sublime southern soul tracks – the vast majority making their Ace CD debut – by headline stars and lesser-known artists culled primarily from quality labels such as Atlantic-Atco, Bell-Amy-Mala and John R’s Sound Stage 7 in the years 1967-72. Soulful tracks by Jerry Lee Lewis, Dusty Springfield, the Box Tops and Elvis sit easily here – and how about the rare ‘Don’t Take Your Love’ by the Blossoms? There are also four co-written Dan Penn songs.
The package, beautifully illustrated, features an introduction and detailed track analysis by Red Kelly, who administers the Soul Detective website (souldetective.com) and The Reggie Young Discography Project (reggieyoung.org) – aided by Young’s session books. Kelly gives special praise to American Studio owner Chips Moman, who had set Stax on its way by producing such early hits as Carla Thomas’ ‘Gee Whiz’, the Mar-Keys’ ‘Last Night’ and William Bell’s ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water’. Another crucial person on the production side at American was bass guitarist Tommy Cogbill. In fact, Kelly has received direct input from some of the people who were there, including Jerry Kennedy, Larry Rogers, Papa Don, Charlie Chalmers, Bob Wilson and Harold Thomas.
In the booklet, keyboardist Bobby Wood tells how the Memphis Boys, effectively two sets of session musicians at Royal studio under Willie Mitchell for Hi, and Phillips studio under Stan Kesler for Sun, were pooled together in 1967 under the leadership of Moman. “We didn’t know until we moved to Nashville just what a legacy the 827 Thomas Street Band would leave behind,” Wood said. “In just four-and-a-half years, there were 122 chart records in four different charts: pop, R&B, country and jazz.” As Kris Kristofferson exclaimed at that Nassau Coliseum concert, in reference to the Memphis Boys, “Superstars! These guys are as good as you get.”