Guest Post: Tour Stax with a Memphis Horn

Guest Post: Tour Stax with a Memphis Horn

Ed. Note: Because I'm traveling this week, I have a couple of lovely guest posts in store for you. The first is by Tennesse TripTales blogger Samantha Crespo, about a private tour of the Stax Museum.  Enjoy! - Holly

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.

But I did something recently that you can do, too: Tour the Stax Museum of American Soul Music with Wayne Jackson, sole surviving member of The Memphis Horns.

Wayne Jackson (in sunglasses) with, left to right, Eddie Floyd, Sam Moore, Steve Cropper, Otis Redding and Arthur Conley during the 1967 Stax/Volt European Revue. Photo courtesy of The Wayne Jackson Collection.

Wayne at home on Mud Island today. Photo courtesy of the Wayne Jackson Collection.

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, and 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’ll tell you 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 #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.”

Wayne and I in front of Stax’s Memphis Horns exhibit

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 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:

Photo courtesy of the Wayne Jackson Collection.

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):

Photo courtesy of the Wayne Jackson Collection.

Everywhere you look, there are framed records (Wayne’s played on 80-plus Gold or Platinum albums):

Amy, Wayne and a few of the records. Photo courtesy of the Wayne Jackson Collection.

It’s neat to see it all. But nothing compares to sitting on the couch with Wayne talking music (we covered Jim Dickinson to Jim Spake on our visit) and listening to more of his stories. Stories of a Memphis where Elvis would pull his pink Cadillac behind the Rainbow Terrace Room 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 at Herbie O’Mell’s or with Jerry Lee Lewis at the honkytonks along Brooks Road. 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 [email protected] 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.

P.S. This Sat., April 26, 11 a.m. - 7 p.m., is the 4th Annual Stax to the Max, the FREE music and arts festival that goes down in the museum parking lot. On the lineup: The Bo-Keys; Stax Music Academy performing with Sam Moore of Sam & Dave. Rain date is Sun., April 27, 1-7 p.m.


Samantha Crespo is a Memphis-based travel writer who blogs weekly about Memphis for the state’s official travel blog, Tennessee TripTales. Her first book, 100 Things To Do In Memphis Before You Die, releases next month.

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Great post and very cool that you can tour Stax with the Jacksons! I've been to Stax twice and cried during the opening film too...both times. It's such an inspiring place and I think I could stare at Isaac Haye's cadilac all day.
April 27, 2014 10:59pm