For a third straight year, DJ Chris Cowles will be on the airwaves, playing seven straight hours of some of the best music ever recorded.
Cowles’ show, which he co-hosts with fellow radio personality Tom Shaker, is called the “Soulsville Special,” and it’ll run from 12-7 p.m. on May 26 from Hartford up to Springfield on WRTC (89.3 FM), a station housed at Trinity College. (You can also stream it online at wrtcfm.com.) Scheduled guest callers include Memphis Horns co-founder Wayne Jackson, James Alexander and Larry Dodson of the Bar-Kays, Mavis Staples, Booker T. Jones, Mar-Keys founding member Don Nix, pianist/producer Marvell Thomas and several other members of the Stax family. Tune in for the interviews, but keep your radio on all day for the 80+ southern soul sides.
“I’ve been hosting Greasy Tracks since 1995,” Cowles said. “It’s been seventeen years, and I’ve been doing radio for 26. I think giving back things that you’ve collected and things you’ve learned and battling back against the corporate media is really important. We are trying to do something off the beaten track, to look back when music had a little meaning to it, and also to get a good balance of stuff that people don’t hear anymore.”
But why Stax? Motown was huge, Cowles said, and it’s what most people think of when they think about soul music. But Stax, the Memphis label that produced Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes and dozens of other stars, produced a grittier, funkier, more down-home feel. “Memphis is one of the music capitals of this country,” Cowles said. “You listen to that house band [Booker T. and the MGs]. They played on hundreds of sessions. But there were also blues guitarists like Albert King, the Memphis Horns, the amount of hip singles, top ten things... The numbers are staggering and will never be equaled.”
It’s also a repertoire that doesn’t get a whole lot of airplay these days. “You don’t hear much Stax,” Cowles said. “You think of ‘Sitting on the Dock of a Bay’ and other great songs. But was that all that came out of there? Of course not.”
For Cowles, the point of the show is to highlight lesser-known Stax sides, to get back to the roots of soul, when the crossover from black radio stations to the whole market was happening. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the legendary WattStax concert, often referred to as the “Black Woodstock,” and that’s sure to drive some discussion with his callers. It’s also a fitting time to discuss some recent passings in the Stax world: MGs bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and Memphis Horn Andrew Love.
“They are too big to not pay tribute,” Cowles said. “Andrew Love was a key to that great horn sound. In many ways it will be a very emotional show. Stax was really a family. White and black people really didn’t get along in those days in Memphis, but within the [Stax] building there was a great harmony. That horn section was so important to that Stax sound.” It’ll be emotional, particularly for one guest caller, Love’s cohort Wayne Jackson. “I haven’t talked to him since Andrew died,” Cowles said. “He’s a very intense guy, but a very down-home guy.”
The show, Cowles said, will feature about 12-15 interviews, and he doesn’t have a track-list of what he’s going to play. “It’s going to be a pretty interesting balance of things,” Cowles said. “It’s Memorial Day weekend. Why not have some old-time radio, unscripted, unedited, some great American soul music. You aren’t going to get it anywhere else.”
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