Digging for 'Soul' Melissa Etheridge Found Inspiration in the Stax Records Catalog

By Podplesky, Azaria | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), August 4, 2017 | Go to article overview

Digging for 'Soul' Melissa Etheridge Found Inspiration in the Stax Records Catalog


Podplesky, Azaria, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


If you go

Melissa Etheridge

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Where: Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox, 1001 W. Sprague Ave.

Cost: $48-$85. Tickets available through TicketsWest.

After 32 years in the business and 13 studio albums, prolific singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge was looking to switch gears and take a brief respite from songwriting.

Looking to the roots of rock 'n' roll for inspiration, Etheridge rediscovered a passion for soul music and the work of legendary Memphis label Stax Records.

It was then that the idea for "Memphis Rock and Soul" was born.

Etheridge traveled to Memphis and dug through the label's extensive catalog. When she was done, she had a list of nearly 100 potential songs to cover.

"The intensity of Otis Redding and the performers and singers and songwriters that came out of there, it has so much to do with what I'm doing, so it was such a pleasure to reach back," Etheridge said from a recent tour stop in Reno, Nevada.

She will perform at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox on Friday.

To narrow down that list of songs to the dozen that made the album, Etheridge looked at what songs she felt she could add her own flavor to, what songs she thought she could sing truthfully and the ones that, in the studio, simply felt right.

The original Stax Records burned down in the '80s (the site is now home to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music), so Etheridge recorded in Royal Studios, legendary in its own right for its work with the likes of Al Green, Ann Peebles, and Ike and Tina Turner.

"They still have a great Memphis sound, so it was the next best thing," Etheridge said.

On "Memphis Rock and Soul," Etheridge dusted off tunes like Rufus Thomas' "Memphis Train," Sam and Dave's "Hold On, I'm Coming," William Bell's "I Forgot to Be Your Lover" and Barbara Stephens' "Wait A Minute" and gave them a new attitude. John Mayer assisted, playing on lead guitar on Redding's "Rock Me Baby" and Albert King's "Born Under a Bad Sign."

Her signature raspy voice adds a modern spark, although she stays true to the original emotion of each track.

Try as she might, Etheridge couldn't make every song on her list work. She gave "Try a Little Tenderness" a shot but didn't feel like she added anything special to the Redding tune.

"Also 'Knock on Wood.' I really tried to make that work," she said. "And 'Walking the Dog.' I thought I could rock them up. They just live the way they are."

Even with a cover project like "Memphis Rock and Soul," Etheridge couldn't stay away from songwriting; she wrote new lyrics for the Staple Singers' "Respect Yourself (People Stand Up)" and "I'm A Lover."

On tour in support of the album, Etheridge called the project rewarding and said fans are happy with it, too.

"The fans have really loved the performances, and because I stayed true to who I am, they love that aspect of it," she said.

Etheridge has stayed true to herself ever since she burst onto the scene with 1988's "Melissa Etheridge" and the Grammy-nominated single "Bring Me Some Water. …

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