In 1991, Atlantic Records released the landmark box set The Complete Stax/Volt Singles 1959-1968. The care that was taken with the release marked a new level of respect for the music of the legendary Stax Records label and soul music in general. The collection was reissued by Rhino Records two years ago. In 1993, a resuscitated Stax Records released two more volumes of Stax recordings covering the years 1968-1975. The two volumes were reissued by Concord Music in 2015 and it was reasonable to think the maybe all of the greatness had been drained from the Stax vaults but that was not the case.
Craft Recordings, a division of Concord, has released Stax Singles, Vol. 4: Rarities and the Best of the Rest. Stax was, of course, best known for classic soul music but the new six-CD collection finds Stax branching out into other genres with music that was originally released by Stax subsidiary rock labels like Ardent and Hip, gospel labels like Chalice and Gospel Truth, and a country label, Enterprise. There are also early instrumental and blues tracks that appeared on Satellite Records, a precursor to Stax.
The collection digs deeper into the Stax archives than any of the previous compilations and comes up with long-forgotten B-sides and other rarities. Classic Stax soul is well represented on the first three discs but the set uses the other three discs to profile Stax’ attempts to diversify its sound over the years 1960-1975. Make no mistake, well-known Stax artists like the Staple Singers, the Bar-Kays, and Johnnie Taylor are represented here but there are also tracks from rock legends Big Star and Don Nix and gospel from the Dixie Nightingales and the Jubilee Hummingbirds.
An 80-page booklet accompanies the collection and includes essays by noted writers like Rob Bowman who covers the soul music discs.
“Stax’s B-sides are, by and large, better than most companies’ A-sides,” Bowman said.
Stax Singles, Vol. 4 was co-produced by Bill Belmont who spoke about the impetus behind the project.
“Over the years, within the collector-fan circuit, and in reissues and collections of vintage Stax material worldwide, some ‘B’ sides have attained a status comparable to the promoted work. Stax’s ‘other side’ has never been presented on its own — thus here, the “other” imprints are all gathered under the Stax umbrella; part of the all-encompassing rubric ‘where everything is everything.’”
Stax Singles, Vol. 4 marks the conclusion of a massive 60th anniversary of Stax Records reissue campaign by Craft Recordings and Rhino Entertainment who jointly control the Stax catalog. Over a two-year period, there have been 15 vinyl reissues by artists like Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, and Isaac Hayes, whose reissues were covered in last week’s column. There have also been CD releases including the Stax Classics series that highlighted some of the labels biggest stars and a three-disc compilation called Soulsville U.S.A.