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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Birth of The Memphis Sound

Memphis music legend Jim Dickinson was a triple threat – at the very least. He was a skilled musician, singer, producer and songwriter. In addition, he had the sensitivity and musical depth to see connections, linkages and evolutions in music.
In a career that stretched over four decades, Dickinson was credited with influencing the shape of The Memphis Sound.
Dickinson built a worldwide reputation as a session player for the likes of Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones. Dylan, who was a longtime friend and collaborator, acknowledged “Mississippi Jim” as a “brother” while accepting a Grammy for 1997’s Time Out of Mind. The Rolling Stones brought Dickinson in to add his soulful piano touch to their classic Sticky Fingers ballad “Wild Horses.”

The 67-year-old Dickinson died in August 2009, but left much to the world of music. His sons, Cody and Luther (the North Mississippi Allstars), continue his style and influence. He also left his observations about music and its development.
The link below takes you to a discussion with Dickinson about the origin of The Memphis Sound which became highly popular and sought after in R&B and rock ‘n roll. Dickinson’s assertion is that it all began just across the river in West Memphis, AR at a club called the Plantation Inn (PI). (I will confess to going there, under age, on a double date back when I was . . . well, too young.).
This is where it starts sounding like a game of Kevin Bacon seven degrees of separation. The popular band at the PI had two horn players, not commonplace at the time. Packy Axton was a young Memphis sax player who learned to play sax from the PI’s saxophone player. Packy’s mother was Estelle Axton, co-founder of the famous Stax Records in Memphis.

According to Dickinson, it was Packy who brought the sound back across the river and persuaded his mom and her business partner Jim Stewart, to incorporate the sound and feel in records they were recording.
Stax became internationally renowned for R&B and artists including Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, the Staple Singers, Wilson Pickett, Luther Ingram, Albert King, the Bar-Kays, Booker T. & the MG's, Johnnie Taylor, and Rufus and Carla Thomas. Much of the soul music you think came from Detroit actually came from Memphis.
Follow this link to a video of Jim Dickinson talking about the birth of The Memphis Sound -
Just a side note: In the late ‘50s, Axton was the founding member of the Mar-Keys, a band that became very popular and well known. Mike played a Mar-Keys gig around 1965. The traditional horn section by then was trumpet, tenor sax and baritone sax. Packy played tenor and they needed a sub on bari, so Mike got the call. So that puts Mike in the degress of separation linking back to the birth of The Memphis Sound.

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