TOUR STAX WITH A MEMPHIS HORN
Full disclosure: I get to do cool stuff for my job every now and then – take a private tour; conduct an exclusive interview…that sort of thing.
I had my iPad loaded with interview questions when Wayne and his wife, Amy, greeted me in the Stax Museum lobby. I had the most professional intentions of chasing every one of those questions. But when introductions began, I surged a star-struck gush, recalling the first time I ever heard “Try a Little Tenderness” and confessing that I tear up when Steve Cropper says that bit in the museum’s opening film about color never coming through the studio door.
“Me too,” Wayne replied.
I abandoned the iPad.
In the museum theater, my husband and I sat on either side of Wayne. Cropper’s line wasn’t the only time he cried during the film.
Afterward, we rolled through the museum, Amy pushing Wayne in his wheelchair; my husband and I interjecting questions as they came to us. We stopped at The Mar-Keys vignette where one of Wayne’s trombones is displayed and he told us how Estelle Axton fought for studio time for the band that included her son, Packy, and Wayne, a kid from West Memphis, Arkansas, with a trumpet in lieu of a high school diploma; how Dewey Phillips played the band’s signature instrumental, “Last Night,” three times in a row on WHBQ; how the song shot to No. 2 on the R&B charts on its way to Gold in 1961. On a musical scene where instrumentals were the thing, Wayne told me “Last Night” was the only one “with guts.”
In the museum’s re-created Studio A, next to one of his trumpets and beneath a black-and-white photo of himself and other members of the old Stax crew at work, Wayne talked us through where everyone would be positioned during a typical session and what it was like working with Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Albert King…and that’s just at Stax. I won’t spill all of Wayne’s stories – better you hear them from him. Just know his practiced response for judgment day is, “I played with Otis Redding.” Here’s my favorite example:
We left the museum to re-join Wayne and Amy at their condo on Memphis’ Mud Island for a drink and continued conversation. Inside the condo, every wall and shelf will make you gape – the mantle holds the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award given to Wayne and his Memphis Horns partner, Andrew Love, in 2012:
In the Jacksons’ office, you’ll find the trumpet mute Wayne used on “Hold On, I’m Comin’” (yep, the one you see in the footage of the 1967 Stax/Volt European revue):
Everywhere you look, there are framed records like Wayne’s played on 80-plus Gold or Platinum albums:
It’s neat to see it all. But nothing compares to sitting on the couch with Wayne talking music and listening to more of his stories. Stories of a Memphis where Elvis would pull his pink Cadillac behind a venue to hear The Mar-Keys play. Stories of a Memphis where Wayne could record all day and gig all night, maybe sitting in with Alex Chilton or Jerry Lee Lewis. Stories of a Memphis where Bernard Lansky fit Wayne in an electric blue suit fit for touring Europe.
Wayne wouldn’t have believed you in 1967 if you’d told him he’d return to Europe (and Asia and Australia) repeatedly. Or if you’d told him he’d jam with Mick Jagger, solo with The Doobie Brothers, drive Rod Stewart’s Lamborghini or sup at Sting’s castle. All that, and you know what he left us with? “I walked into Stax in 1961 and it changed my life. Being there again…it’s like coming home.”
Commission a tour of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music with Wayne (plus that post-tour drink at his condo) by contacting Amy Jackson at 901-302-8911 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The Jacksons accommodate groups of up to five people on their tours, so I like the package as an out-of-the-ordinary gift idea or shared celebration among friends.
Gawk at Wayne’s discography and tell us your favorite song he’s played on in the comments section below.