ANTHEM, Book 3 of the Sixties Trilogy, publishes on October 1. Each of the book’s 47 chapters begins with a song from the Sixties to set the tone, mood, and scene. Every day between now and October 1, come have a listen and read a snippet from each chapter. On October 1, these posts will be archived with a link at ANTHEM’s webpage for #teachingAnthem1969
This is Chapter 21 (day 27):
TIME IS TIGHT
Written by Booker T. Jones, Al Jackson, Jr., Donald “Duck” Dunn,
and Steve Cropper
Performed by Booker T. and the MGs
Recorded at Stax Records, Memphis, Tennessee 1969
Drummer: Al Jackson, Jr.
“What a good time!” said Estelle. Molly nodded. “That’s what to remember,” Estelle said. “None of us stays the same. Music reminds us of the journey, of where we came from, and it even shows us where we’re going. You’ll see.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Molly. She didn’t see.
“Listen to those songs again,” said Estelle. “Let them bathe the sadness away, so you can see the gifts it brings you.”
“I will,” said Molly, and as she said it, her sadness softened.
Estelle pulled a bag from behind the counter for the records she and Molly had listened to. “One day I’ll be gone, too,” she said. “One day I hope you’ll play these records and remember this day, remember me. Let me send you on your way with a little bit of Stax.”
Molly smiled at Estelle. “Thank you, Lady A.”
Estelle handed Molly the bag. “You are so welcome, dear girl.”
So we stop at Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee, on an early summer morning. Estelle Axton was one of the first women to own a recording studio in the Sixties. She co-founded the label, along with her brother, Jim Stewart, and they recorded mostly black artists, although the two of them were white.
They converted the Capitol Theater, in a black neighborhood in Memphis, into a recording studio and record shop — Satellite Records — and it became a beacon to not only the neighborhood, but to kids like Steve Cropper who had to go to the local Sears to hear records before Satellite Records opened, and who was interested in more than Pat Boone and Bobby Darin.
Cropper became part of Booker T. and the MGs, the integrated house band at Stax, who backed so many artists and helped make their records hits.
I wanted you to hear Booker T and the MGs, with Booker T. on that Hammond organ. Their most famous tune is “Green Onions,” but since I used that song in COUNTDOWN, I decided to go with another one here, especially as “Time is Tight” is also what’s going on with Molly and Norman right now — they’ve got to get going, to make it San Francisco in time to find Barry and bring him home.
I also wanted to use this chapter to give you a flavor for Memphis, Tennessee — and the American South — in 1969. I give it to you through the history that Lady A talks about in this chapter — the loss of Otis Redding and what that meant to Stax Records, the murder of Martin Luther King and then Bobby Kennedy in 1968… and then, of course, the music.
Music highlighted in this chapter: “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” by Otis Redding; “People, Get it Together,” by Eddie Floyd; “Soul Man,” by Sam and Dave; “Abraham, Martin and John,” by Dion; and “A Hard Day’s Night,” by the Beatles, which Molly uses to tell a story that unlocks a little more about her brother Barry, for her (and us) to think about.
You can tour Stax Records and the recording studio when you’re in Memphis, and get a feel for the magic that was created there in the Sixties. I’ve been several times now, and I love it as much as Graceland, actually… and there ain’t much I love as much as the mythology that surrounds Graceland. Stay tuned…