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Booker T. & The M.G.’s Frontman Booker T. Jones Remembers Stax Records Founder Jim Stewart

"For me, he was the source of countless hours of musical joy," Jones says of the label founder, who died Monday at age 92.

Jim Stewart, the Father of Stax, is dead. The ship has lost its captain, and our hearts are lost at sea. As eternal as he seemed to a young boy like me, I thought this day would never come as he pulled me into his dream of making music for the world. 

There was an intense fire burning in Jim’s chest, born of the love of music, and that fire quickly spread to those around him. What was Jim’s thought process, putting his country music studio smack dab in the middle of South Memphis? The young neighborhood musicians found Stax on their own. They biked to the studio; they worked at the market across the street from the studio; they ditched high school to record at the studio. Stax became a haven, an outlet for the young songwriters in the neighborhood to express themselves. 

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Jim never admitted that he believed in me. What if your boss was a small, reclusive lion who never told you exactly what he expected — or what he wanted of you besides showing up for work on time? I would have preferred the lion’s roar to the slightly turned head and his look of feigned disinterest. In hindsight, though, I realize it was often that look of disappointment that spurred me to try to make better music. 

After Booker T. & The M.G.’s recorded “Behave Yourself,” Jim liked it so much that he wanted to put the song out as a single. Jim pushed the band on the spur of the moment, to come up with a B-side for “Behave Yourself.”  Lucky for me I had been working on a bluesy musical sequence, I taught it to the band, and it became “Green Onions.” So Jim gets the credit for pushing us to record the song which became the iconic “Green Onions”. 

Such was the nature of Jim Stewart, the driving force behind the great Stax Records of Memphis, Tennessee. For me, he was the source of countless hours of musical joy, as well as the privilege of making music in a studio less than two blocks from my childhood home. 

Jim fought for Stax Records to the bitter end, sacrificing house, home and well-being. For his gifts to me, the Stax Family, and the world, may he rest in God’s peace. 

Farewell to a King.