Memphis Boys: The Story Of American Studios (Ace)

British reissue label Ace has done it again. They’ve come up with another compilation the shows off the incredible quantity and quality of fine music that was being made in the Southern United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Previously Ace spotlighted Rick Hall’s Fame Studios, located in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. You can read the 13th Floor review here. Now, they’ve moved to Memphis and Chips Moman’s American Studios.

Memphis, Tennessee was teeming with musical talent in the 1960s thanks to labels like Stax, Hi and Goldwax. Of course Sun had been based there since the early 1950s. Chips Moman started the studio in 1964 and by the end of the decade he and his crack team of studio musicians had turned out hits by The Box Tops, Merrilee Rush, Dusty Springfield, Joe Tex, Wilson Pickett and even managed to revive the career of Elvis Presley.

The singers came and went over the years but the musicians who played on these records remained fairly constant. The American Studios sound was created by Reggie Young (guitar), Bobby Emmons (keyboards), Gene Chrisman (drums), Tommy Cogbill (bass). Keyboard player Bobby Wood also contributed as did bass player turned string arranger Mike Leech.

To get a feel of what the American Studio sound was, you only have to listen to the first track on this collection…sax great King Curtis’ Memphis Soul Stew. Each of the players takes his turn in adding to the funky, greasy, soulful concoction.

The 24 tracks on offer here include several major hits…The Box Tops’ The Letter, Dusty Springfield’s Son-Of-A Preacher Man, Merrilee Rush’s Angel Of The Morning, along with rarer deep soul sides like Oscar Toney Jr.’s take on Jerry Butler’s For Your Precious Love, James Carr’s You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up and L.C. Cooke’s (Sam’s brother) duet with Bobby Womack on Let’s Do It Over.

Mark James, the author of Suspicious Minds, can be heard with his own version of the Elvis hit and B.J. Thomas turns in a very soulful I’ve Been Down This Road Before. And Danny O”Keefe’s 1972 hit Goodtime Charlie’s Got The Blues (one of the last to come from American) sounds both fresh and poignant.

The set is rounded out with The King himself, Elvis Presley’s version of Hank Snow’s I’m Movin’ On. You can hear the crack musicians pushing Presley to give his best performance.

The liner notes are, as usual, extensive (this is being touted as the soundtrack to Roben (sic) Jones’ book about the studio) with plenty of stories, background info and general trivia about the sessions, the studio and Moman himself.

So Ace Records…keep ‘em comin’!

Marty Duda

Click here to listen to Memphis Soul Stew by King Curtis: