For sixty years, Stax Records has been a name synonymous with some of the finest blues, R&B, and Soul music ever made. Yet like all good record labels of their era, they had a few obscure diversions into other genres, and Stax Country explores one of the label’s lesser known investments: traditional Country & Western.
Considering its studio location of Memphis, Tennessee, it isn’t surprising that Stax would occasionally fund smaller record labels and releases from the blossoming scene. Most of the sixteen tracks found on Stax Country range appeared on tiny labels Truth and Enterprise Records between 1969 and 1974, and it’s fair to say that the obscurity of these singles should not be taken as a reflection on their quality. Most of these songs are very fine exercises in contemporary country/pop. “Your Love” by Joyce Cobb sounds so much like a hit, you’ll wonder where you’ve heard it before. (You haven’t; this song has been unreleased for forty years.) Yet you might have heard “Hippie From The Hills,” Roland Eaton’s answer to Merle Haggard’s “Okie From Muskogee,” which was a minor hit in 1971, or you may have heard Eddie Bond’s “That Glass,” a minor hit in 1973 that occasionally pops up on Country Oldies stations. O.B. McClinton’s “The Finer Things In Life” wasn’t released during his prolific early 70s career, but it’s a fine, gorgeous number by an underrated African-American country singer.
Yet aside from these names, most of the acts on Stax Country remain unknown, but there’s some quality to be had. Danny Bryan’s country version of “My Girl” is a satisfying country rendition of the Motown classic; Roger Hallmark’s “Truck Driving Station” is fun Jerry Reed-style boogie; Lee Denson’s “A Mom And Dad For Christmas” is a melodramatic Country weepie, while Paige O’Brian’s “Satisfied Woman” is a Gospel-tinged ballad by a woman nobody seems to know anything about.
Stax may have stretched itself a bit too thin to really give Country Music a good home; always running by the seat-of-its-pants, the label simply couldn’t afford to develop into a proper Country label. It’s unfortunate that Stax’s limited means meant that they couldn’t afford to develop these artists in the way that they required, but Stax Country is a belated welcome introduction to some fine, long-lost country gems.
Stax Country is available now via Craft Recordings.