Written In Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos brings together 146 demos from the legendary Stax Records, including 140 previously unreleased recordings by those who created them.
Compiled by multi-Grammy award winning producer Cheryl Pawelski and restored and mastered by engineer Michael Graves this seven CD set is packaged in a 7"x7" box and includes archival photos, and a new essay written by Deanie Parker and Robert Gordon. The collection combines both songwriter demos of some of music’s biggest songs with full-blown arrangements of never released tracks.
The Stax Records story is an indispensable chapter in American musical history. Amid the civil rights-era racial strife and deep-seated tensions of the late '50s and '60s, Stax fundamentally shaped American soul music and spawned the careers of legends like Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the MG's, the Staple Singers, Albert King, and William Bell, just to name a few. But behind their iconic hits was a talented team of songwriters. And now Craft Recordings is celebrating the work of Stax’s legendary roster of songwriters, including Bettye Crutcher, Homer Banks, and William Bell. From early sketches of classic ’60s and ’70s hits to never-before-heard songs with full-blown arrangements, Written In Their Soul offers fans a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of the storied Memphis label.
The songs featured on Written In Their Soul fall into three categories: demos that were released by artists at Stax or its subsidiary imprints, including Volt, We Produce, and Enterprise (CDs one, two and three), demos by Stax songwriters that were released by artists on other labels, such as Atlantic and Decca (CD four), and a trove of hit-worthy recordings that were never released (CDs five, six and seven). Adding context to these songs are notes by Pawelski, plus a new essay by author Robert Gordon (Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story) and Stax’s original Director of Publicity Deanie Parker, who later served as the founding President and CEO of the Soulsville Foundation, which encompasses the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, among other educational organizations. Ms. Parker, who joined the Stax fold in 1962, was also a songwriter at the label.
What fans might find the most striking is hearing the label’s biggest singles in their earliest incarnations. Such examples include Mack Rice’s acoustic demo of “Respect Yourself,” a 1971 hit by the Staple Singers, written alongside Luther Ingram. Another fascinating example is Henderson Thigpen’s “Woman To Woman,” which became a signature hit for Shirley Brown in 1974. Not all the demos stray far from their final versions. In fact, fans may recognize some songs immediately. Homer Banks’ demo for “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right,” written with Carl Hampton, is a prime example. Originally intended for the Emotions, the song was shelved, only to be discovered two years later by Luther Ingram. The singer-songwriter, who stayed true to Bank’s demo, turned the song into one of the biggest hits of 1972.
Stax was also home to several female songwriters – a rarity at that time. One of the label’s first big stars, Carla Thomas, was a prolific writer who penned her debut hit, “Gee Whiz (Look At His Eyes),” when she was just 15. Thomas’ work is exemplified here on multiple demos – the majority of which she would record herself – as well as several unreleased songs, including “Let’s Be Sure” and “It’s Up To You.” In 1964, while under contract at Atlantic Records, Thomas also scored a hit with the Deanie Parker/Steve Cropper tune, “I’ve Got No Time to Lose,” the demo of which is featured in this box set. Some of Parker’s unreleased work is also highlighted, including demos of “Spin It” and “Nobody Wants To Get Old” with Mack Rice. Among Stax’s most prolific songwriters was Bettye Crutcher, whose songs in this collection include solo compositions as well as collaborations, including works with her hitmaking team We Three, featuring Homer Banks and Raymond Jackson. But Crutcher had plenty of challenges to overcome, explains Parker. “She realized that there were barriers, that the writers had turf, and to be a woman in that environment was extremely difficult.
In the late ’60s, when Stax split with Atlantic Records and became an independent force, that productivity helped keep the label afloat, as Crutcher penned a string of hits for newcomers like Johnnie Taylor and the Staple Singers. The latter group, which is represented throughout Written In Their Soul, performs a particularly powerful demo of “Top Of The Mountain,” written by Crutcher and Marvell Thomas. Other highlights from Crutcher’s rich collection of work include the previously-unreleased feminist anthem by We Three, “Too Much Sugar For A Dime.” Written In Their Soul includes two versions of the song: a raw demo, performed by Homer Banks, followed by a flashier rendition by Crutcher that features a full band, backup singers, and supremely funky guitar licks by Bobby Manuel, who frequently collaborated with the songwriter.
While it is thrilling to hear the early workings of classic Stax tracks, an equal portion of Written In Their Soul is devoted to the songs that never made it out into the world. Many of these tracks are fully realized studio recordings that were sent to publishers for copywriting purposes. Highlights from this section include two tracks featuring Otis Redding sound-a-like, Willie Singleton. Working with Henderson Thigpen and his team, the Rochester, NY singer performed the songs “Somewhere In Somebody’s Heart” and “Love Treaty,” both of which could have easily been soul classics. Other notable selections include would-be hits that were written and performed by stars like Frederick Knight (“I Like the Way You Groove Me”), Eddie Floyd (“Don’t You Know I’m All Alone” and “‘Till You’ve Been Loved By Me,” both collaborations with Steve Cropper), and William Bell (“It’s No Secret,” written with Booker T. Jones).