Soul music has been one of the most influencing genres in musical history. Even though soul music first started emerging in the 1950s, it really began to grow popular during the 1960s and 1970s. Not only did this genre take off like a rocket during this time period, it also acted as the catalyst for the creation of subgenres, such as Motown style (pop-friendly), southern soul and Memphis soul (both nurtured by Stax Records).
Many popular artists today still use soul music as a guide,.
We cannot forget the amazing legacies that helped push this genre to become as popular as it did.
Muscles Shoals Sound Studios, Motown and Stax Records. There have been numerous smaller record labels but these in particular held the hands of many famous soul music artists who had major musical impacts in the 1960s and 1970s.
Each of these three record labels guided and supported many soul music artists of their time and shaped the future of music.
Starting with Muscles Shoals, founded by Rick Hall and a four-man musician group called “The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section in 1969 (same year as the first moon landing!) is a soul music legacy. This group was actually the first musical group to own their own studio and run their own production company. Unfortunately, the studio closed in 2005, ending their musical journey.
However, in 2006 the studio was recognized as a historic place and transformed into a historical music museum, which opened as a tourist attraction in 2017. But before the closure of Muscles Shoals, during their successful period of time they represented artists such as:
Aretha Franklin –
“Queen” title goes to Aretha Franklin, who is commonly known as the “Queen of Soul”. Aretha earned her title because she had one of the most successful careers in all of music history. She first signed with Columbia Records in 1960, switched to Atlantic Records in 1967 and then made her way to Muscle Shoals, where she garnered a big hit album called “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)”.
There are many other famous artists who have recorded at Muscle Shoals, such as:
• Willie Nelson • Lynyrd Skynyrd • Joe Cocker • Rod Stewart • Cat Stevens
Founded in 1960 by Berry Gordy Jr., Motown was the place many soul music artists went to make it big. In fact, Motown is considered the most successful soul music label. In the 1960s, Motown released 79 records and had a net worth of $61 million. In a ten-year span, from 1961 to 1971, Motown had 110 songs listed on the top 10 record list. Crazy right?
Motown typically focused on a more “pop-friendly” style of soul music. They even trademarked their own style which they called “The Motown Sound”. Some of the famous musical artists Motown represented were:
Marvin Gaye – Marvin is known as the Prince of Motown. His music helped form Motown’s sound branding in the 1960s. The first big musical hit that he created at Motown was “Stubborn Kind of Fellow,” which was released in 1961. Marvin was Motown’s best-selling artist in in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1987, he was added to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his undeniable contribution to Motown sound. It’s no wonder why he is considered the Prince!
Stevie Wonder -Talking about wonder, another famous artist that Motown represented is the one and only Stevie Wonder. Stevie was only 11 years only when he first signed to Motown, singing his own composed song called “Lonely Boy”. By the time Stevie hit age 13, he became the youngest musical artist to ever make the top charts. Like Marvin, Stevie was also a best-selling artist, selling over 100 million records and winning 25 Grammy awards.
Gladys Knight – The “Empress of Soul”! Gladys and her group called “Gladys Knight and the Pipes” signed to Motown in 1966, where big musical hits were created. Notable songs she made were “Friendship Train” and “Neither One of Us”, which the group received a Grammy for. Fun fact: in 1968, Gladys was the very first person who suggested Motown to sign “The Jackson Five”.
Another major player was Stax Records. This label was founded in 1957 and orginally named Satellite Records. It wasn’t until 1961 when the name changed to Stax Records. The studio was actually a revamped movie theatre. Because of the uneven, sloped floors of the studio, it gave the musical recording a different and distinctive sound. Die-hard soul fans can typically tell if a song was recorded at Stax Records.
Their most successful year was 1967, when they had multiple signings and were growing in fame. However, Stax Records was unfortunately forced into bankruptcy and closed down for good in 1976. But during their successful times, some of the big stars they signed were:
Johnnie Harrison Taylor – Johnnie signed with Stax in 1966 and is known as the “Philosopher of Soul”. One of his top hits was “Who’s Making Love”, which ended up selling more than one million copies worldwide. During his time at Stax, he had an array of successful hits. He is also known for keeping Stax stay afloat after their one of their big artists died, Otis Redding. Johnnie did so well, that he was given a gold disc award from the Recording Industry Association of America in 1973.
Isaac Hayes – Isaac was heavily involved with Stax. He not only recorded at Stax, he was also one of the record producers for the label. He was an incredible songwriter as well, with the song “Soul Man” being one of the top influential songs recognized by the Grammy Hall of Fame. As a result from his successful history, Isaac was added to the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was also honored the Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) icon in 2003 during the Urban Awards for his incredible influence on future musical artists. In total, Isaac received five BMI icon awards.
Rufus Thomas – Rufus was one of the first artists signed to the Stax label. Before signing with Stax in the 1960s and 1970s, he was previously signed with many other labels, such as Chess Records and Sun Records. One of his first recordings at Stax was a duo effort with his 17-year-old daughter Carla. Some of his other big hitters that he recorded at Stax were “Can Your Monkey Do the Dog” and “Somebody Stole My Dog”. Rufus comically referred to himself as “the funkiest man alive”.
Additional artists who signed with Stax include:
• Otis Redding - Otis was actually signed to Volt, which was one of Stax’s subsidiary labels. • Sam and Dave • Carla Thomas
A majority of soul fans agree that the 70s were the Golden Ages of soul music. The quality of soul music from that era was astounding! The creativity that took place during this time period resulted in incredible music, which helped pave the road to the creation of popular music today. Without our influential soul music ancestors and the record labels that guided them, who knows how music would have been different in the world.