Craft Recordings, the catalog division of Concord Music Group, is pleased to announce the forthcoming release of Stax Country, a collection of rare and unreleased country songs, recorded in the early-mid 1970s for the Memphis label. Due out October 20th, the album will be available on vinyl and CD, as well as across all digital and streaming platforms, and will include new liner notes by author Colin Escott, who has not only chronicled the stories of Hank Williams, Sun Records and the Grand Ole Opry, but also co-wrote the Tony Award-nominated Broadway musical Million Dollar Quartet. Stax Country comes as part of an extensive 60th anniversary celebration of the iconic soul label, taking place throughout 2017.
Primarily known as a soul outfit, Stax often made efforts to diversify, with signings in rock, blues and country music, the latter of which wasn’t a stretch for the Memphis label: Stax’s cofounder Jim Stewart was a fiddle player himself, who began his career in the genre; while Nashville ̶ the mecca of country music ̶ was just a mere three hours away. The label cast a wide net to find the next big voice in country music, but the results were lukewarm. In his liner notes, Escott confirms, “Indies had never broken the major labels’ hammerlock on country for long. Smaller labels nibbled around the lower reaches of the charts, sometimes even pushing a record or two to the top, but year-in, year-out, the majors owned country music. Stax was neither the first nor last label to discover that.”
Stax Country offers a diverse crew of artists, many of whom led colorful lives, but never found great success in the music industry. For his extensive liner notes, Colin Escott dove deep into Memphis lore to chronicle the stories of these musicians, many of whom faded quickly into obscurity. O.B. McClinton was perhaps the most successful of the bunch. McClinton became known to Stax as a songwriter, penning R&B tracks for Otis Redding, the Staple Singers and James Carr, and signed his own deal to Stax as a country act in 1971. McClinton, who covers Jim Weatherly’s “Finer Things in Life” on this compilation, went on to record for several major country labels, though never found wide success in the genre. Another highlight artist on Stax Country is Connie Eaton, the daughter of The Grand Ole Opry’s Brian Eaton, and a runner up at the 1968 Miss Nashville pageant, who scored several minor hits on the country charts throughout the late ’60s to mid ’70s, not including those she recorded for Stax, unfortunately. Roger Hallmark, who penned “Truck Driver’s Heaven” was, incidentally, a truck driver, as well as a former bassist for ’60s teen idol Brian Hyland, who had a penchant for writing controversial lyrics and songs about football. Memphis rockabilly singer Eddie Bond was a local character, who, according to Escott’s notes, “was a boundless opportunist…Running the local Hi-Hat nightclub in 1954, he reportedly told Elvis Presley to go back to driving a truck.”
Although the majority of the songs included on Stax Country never made it to the radio waves, let alone store shelves, the tracks collected on this album stand as long-lost gems, recorded during the heyday of ’70s Countrypolitan, while the stories of these artists, many of whom are long forgotten, weave a tale worthy of any country ballad.