Recording "Last Night" as an afterthought, the Mar-Keys landed then
Satellite Records a major hit.
From Messick High
The Mar-Keys, have, as Stax historian Rob Bowman put it, a “long and
byzantine” story. They began in the late ‘50s with a core of east
Memphis kids, most from Messick High School, who formed an
instrumental group to play parties and clubs. Guitarists Steve
Cropper and Charlie Freeman, drummer Terry Johnson, pianist Jerry
Lee “Smoochie” Smith, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, trumpeter Wayne
Jackson, saxophonists “Packy” Axton, and Don Nix, and sometime
vocalist Ronnie Stoots rounded out a lineup that evolved jaggedly
and changed often.
The Boys Cut a Record
The Mar-Keys, and most of its individual parts, impacted the history
of Stax in various and big ways. “Packy,” Estelle Axton’s son and
Jim Stewart’s nephew, provided the connection to the record
business. Satellite was just getting off the ground when the boys
cut their first record in 1961. Stewart and producer Chips Moman
concentrated on their budding star Carla Thomas, and the Mar-Keys
recorded only as an afterthought and favor to the persistent Mrs.
Axton. The Mar-Keys first single “Last Night,” however, sold in the
neighborhood of one million copies, and reached #2 on the Billboard
R&B chart and #3 on the pop chart.
A Name is Born
Not only was “Last Night” the biggest seller in the little label’s
brief history, it attracted the attention of Satellite Records of
California, a company, it turned out, that had a longer claim on the
Satellite name. The California company threatened suit and
generously offered to sell the name outright to the Memphis label.
Stewart and Axton instead chose to change the name. The co-owners
Stewart and Axton combined the first two letters of their last
names, and, an enduring and distinctive new brand was born: “Stax
Soon after, Steve Cropper was hired as a session musician. The
departure of Chips Moman elevated Cropper into the role of studio
producer. The Mar-Keys followed “Last Night” with singles “The
Morning After” and “About Noon.” Their rock around the clock ended
there, but the fun instrumentals didn’t. “Foxy” the “Popeye Stroll,”
and “Sack-O-Woe” closed out a busy 1962 for the boys. Meanwhile, the
Mar-Key horns worked with other Stax reording artists, while another
instrumental group, Booker T. & the MGs was evolving. The Mar-Keys
had only four singles in their name the next three years. They hit a
final time with “Philly Dog” in 1966. The Mar-Key horns accompanied
countless other Stax sessions. They eventually included Wayne
Jackson, saxmen Andrew Love, Floyd Newman, and Joe Arnold. Jackson
and Love were the last remnants to use the Mar-Keys name until they
left Stax in 1969 and became the Memphis Horns.
Rock and Roll
Hall of Famer DONALD "DUCK" DUNN (Bass Guitar) was the bass player
for Booker T. and the MGs at Stax Records where he helped create
such hits as "Soul Limbo," "Hip Hug-Her" and "Time Is Tight."
During his time
at Stax, Dunn became known as one of the major architects of the
classic Memphis sound, playing on such hits as "I've Been Loving You
Too Long," "Respect" and "(Sitting On) The Dock Of The Bay" for Otis
Redding, "In The Midnight Hour" for Wilson Pickett, "You Don?t Know
Like I Know," "Hold On, I?m Comin" and "Soul Man" for Sam and Dave,
as well as three albums for Albert King.
Most of Dunn's
work mentioned above was done with Steve Cropper. Their musical
collaboration and friendship dates back to their high school days in
Memphis where they had their first hit, "Last Night," as members of
Dunn has accompanied include Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Elvis
Presley, Levon Helm, Rod Stewart, Joan Baez and Leon Russell.
'Duck' Dunn appears on the following albums:
of Blues (1978)
Brothers (Music from the Soundtrack) (1980)
Made in America
And The Blues (1988)
Brothers Band Live in Montreux (1990)
Red, White, &
Blues for You
2000 Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1997)
and Friends (Live from chicago's HOB) (1997)