began his music career as a country fiddler in the Texas swing tradition and ended up the founder and president of one of the greatest soul and R&B labels ever, Stax Records.
At 18, Stewart
moved to Memphis from his home in Middleton, TN to pursue a career in music. While playing an occasional gig, the young fiddler supported himself by working at Sears during the day. After a two-year stint in the Army, Stewart
moved back to Memphis, landed a job in a bank, and became interested in recording. After several slammed doors, Stewart
finally found an opening in 1957, releasing a country song he wrote called "Blue Roses" on his own Satellite label. The record bombed. Several more attempts were unsuccessful as well and, by 1959, Stewart
had brought in his older sister Estelle
as a business partner, hired engineer Chips Moman
, and relocated his fledgling operation to an abandoned theater on East McLemore Avenue in Memphis' ghetto.
Not long after, the label scored hits with a pair of Carla Thomas
releases, "Cause I Love You" and "Gee Whiz," that attracted the attention of Atlantic Records. The labels signed a distribution deal and began a period of unheralded success for both imprints. For the next ten years, Stewart
built Stax and its Volt subsidiary into a creative and financial powerhouse. Assembling a gifted ensemble that at one time or another included Isaac Hayes
, David Porter
, Chips Moman
, Steve Cropper
, and Al Bell
, among others, the label's stars included Otis Redding
, Booker T. & the MG's
, Sam & Dave
, Rufus Thomas
, William Bell
, the Mar-Keys
, and Albert King
, virtually the cream of the R&B world.
is historically regarded more as a managerial contributor than a creative one when it comes to the success of Stax, he acted as engineer and producer on many of the early hits and, in that sense, is partly responsible for shaping the famous bass heavy "Stax Sound." After he sold the label in the early '70s Stewart
continued to produce occasionally, but the pioneering spirit of his early days had clearly left him.