Wayne Jackson, Stax and Memphis Horns Legend, passes at age 74.
Wayne Jackson loved to fly small airplanes. He loved to cook his special chili for the many bands with whom recorded. He loved to collect memorabilia. He loved the Stax Music Academy and often performed with the students. He loved giving private tours of the Stax Museum for people from all over the world. He loved his late Memphis Horns partner Andrew Love, often joking that he and Andrew were a couple and that their wives were their “mistresses.” He loved his family, especially his wife of 25 years, Amy, and their fluffy white dog, Gracie.
More than anything, however, Wayne loved life – in particular, his life. It was never lost on Wayne that his life was magical, having played on 52 Number One Records and 83 Gold and Platinum records. He was in awe of the gifts of talent and opportunity that had shaped his career and life, always seeming surprised that so many wonderful things could happen to one person, including playing on his first Gold record while still in high school.
Wayne Jackson, arguably the world’s most important trumpet player, passed away last night, June 21, 2016 from congestive heart failure with Amy by his side.
The first time Wayne Jackson encountered a trumpet, which his mother bought for him when he was 11 years, he knew something magical was about to happen. As he writes in In My Wildest Dreams: Take 1, the first in his trilogy of memoirs, “I took one puff of the light oil and pungent brass smells and got goose bumps. I looked at the velvet that lined the case and was excited in a way I couldn’t describe. I picked the trumpet up and put the mouthpiece in. I made a satisfying noise, in fact, a beautiful sound! I blushed and Mom and Dad laughed. ‘I think he likes it,’ Dad said. He was right. And somehow I knew it wasn’t exactly a toy.”
Wayne Jackson and Huey Lewis at a Stax Music Academy fundraiser on October 18, 2010.
That insight proved to be very true for Jackson. So true, in fact, that it would take him on a decades-long journey that would eventually earn him the highest honor the music industry bestows the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award.
Jackson was born November 24, 1941 in West Memphis, a town he says, “had started life as a fruit stand on a long, dirt road.” From the time he was very young boy, he says, he wanted to be on the radio. When he got his first guitar even before elementary school, he listened to the radio and tried to emulate the sounds he heard as well as tinkering around with his own songs.
After taking up that trumpet, Jackson spent his years in school entering and winning talent competitions. While a senior, barely 18 with a short stint in the National, fate intervened and life would never be the same for the kid who had once dreamed of working for the Arkansas Highway Department.
Jackson’s first big break came in 1961, when he was in 12th grade jamming at a friend’s house and met some fellow teenage musicians who had a band in Memphis, The Royal Spades, who had an in at a new recording studio there called Satellite Records. Wayne joined the band, which soon changed its name to The Mar-Keys. He recorded the instrumental “Last Night” with them and it sold more than a million copies and went Gold. It was then that label owners Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton discovered there was already a Satellite Records in California and took the ST from Stewart and the AX from Axton and formed the portmanteau STAX Records.
Left to right: Eddie Floyd, Sam Moore, Steve Cropper, Otis Redding, Wayne Jackson, Arthur Conley upon arriving in England for the Stax/Volt 1967 European Tour.
With the success of the record, The Mar-Keys set out on a yearlong national tour, which included performances such as one at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida in front of 52,000 fans, where Jerry Lee Lewis, also on the bill, got into a fight with the crowd who began hurling the 52,000 hot dogs they’d been given at him. It also included a performance on the much-loved American Band Stand television show.
A few years after the tour, Jackson paired up with Stax Records’ saxophonist Andrew Love and together, along with a few other horn players, they would play on virtually every song Stax released that featured horns, which was the majority of its catalog, providing the famous horn lines for and helping skyrocket the careers of the likes of Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd, and countless others, helping make Stax Records one of the biggest and most influential record labels in the world.
Seated: Original Mar-Keys members Wayne Jackson, Ronnie “Angel” Stoots, Jerry Lee “Smoochy” Smith, and Terry Johnson visiting with students of the Stax Music Academy in 2007. Photo by Andrea Zucker.
In 1969, the two left Stax and incorporated as The Memphis Horns and for the next four decades they were the most sought-after horn players in the world, adding their magical brass sounds to a who’s who in the music industry, including Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Ike & Tina Turner, Neil Diamond, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Al Green, the Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, U2, Rod Stewart, Joan Baez, and dozens of others. To date, Jackson has performed on52 Number One records, 112 Top Ten records, 83 Gold & Platinum records, and 15 Grammy winners. In 2008 The Memphis Horns were inducted in the Musicians Hall of Fame and that year Jackson was inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame. In 2012, the two received the highest honor the music industry awards, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards. Love passed away later that year, and Jackson continued to record and give specially guided tours of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music in Memphis at the original site of Stax Records.
You’d be hard-pressed to go through a day without hearing Wayne Jackson’s trumpet. Just a few of the songs he played on are Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds,” Neal Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and most of Green’s other hits; Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness” and virtually all of Redding’s other hits; Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” and “Mustang Sally,” Aretha Franklin’s “Think” and many of her other hits, Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” . . . . the list goes on and on.
For Wayne Jackson’s complete and audacious discography, visit his website HERE.