Book Review: Robert Gordon, “Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion”

Written by Book Reviews, Books


To me, the music of Stax Records, the seminal soul music label from Memphis, has always been sacred, from the time I was a child.  All of my life, Stax has been part of my own soul – I had singles by Booker T. and the M.G.’s, Isaac Hayes, Sam and Dave and so on; I worked for several years for Atlantic Records (the original distributors of Stax and now holders of the original hit material from the label); I have all the boxsets, read Rob Bowman’s incredible Soulsville U.S.A. cover to cover and of course, part of my pilgrimage to Memphis was to visit the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.

Having seen Respect Yourself:  The Story of Stax Records, which was written by Robert Gordon, it’s only natural that this wonderful book serves as the companion piece, albeit much fuller and with even greater detail and depth.  Mr. Gordon is no stranger to writing with precision and accuracy about Memphis; he is a native of the city and he writes in a “musical” style – with passion and emotional highs and lows that you feel, as if you were listening (in this case) to an Otis Redding album.  The book gives a wide scope to Stax’s humble beginnings, rise, the near-fatal blows sustained to the label when Otis Redding died and Atlantic Records took the entire back catalog, the resurrection, second wave of dominant success and phenomenal collapse in 1975.

Robert Gordon is one of the finest writers I’ve ever had the pleasure to read – he has now done the Stax Records’ story justice twice.  With a heartfelt forward by the one and only Booker T. Jones…  well, it says it all.  This is a must read – and a must see, if you haven’t seen the movie yet.