On August 20, 1972, the Stax label presented a major concert, Wattstax, featured performances by Stax recording artists and humor from rising young comedian Richard Pryor. Known as the “Black Woodstock,” Wattstax was hosted by Reverend Jesse Jackson and drew a crowd of over 100,000 people, most of them African-American. Wattstax was filmed by motion picture director Mel Stuart (Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory), and a concert film of the event was released to theaters by Columbia Pictures in February 1973.
This right here as one commenter said “was the moment ‘cool’ was born”.
Isaac Hayes – Live at Wattstax (1972)
Despite the success of Wattstax, the future of Stax was unstable. In 1972, Bell bought out Stewart’s remaining interest in the company, and established a distribution deal with CBS Records. CBS Records President Clive Davis saw Stax as a means for CBS to fully break into the African-American market and successfully compete with Motown. Bell had originally proposed that CBS buy 50% of the company, but Davis discussed it with CBS’s corporate attorneys, who saw anti-trust problems, so a national distribution deal was worked out instead. However, Davis was fired by the company shortly after signing the Stax distribution deal. Without Davis at the helm, CBS very quickly lost interest in Stax.
The Stax labels’ profits were cut severely, particularly since the CBS distribution agents bypassed the traditional small mom-and-pop record sellers in the black community which had been the backbone of Stax’s distribution, and weren’t pushing the Stax product to the larger retailers for fear of undercutting rack space for CBS R&B artists. Reports came in to Stax of stores in cities such as Chicago and Detroit being unable to get new Stax records despite consumer demands, and the company attempted to annul its distribution deal with CBS. However, although CBS was uninterested in fully promoting Stax, it refused to release the label from its contract, for fear that Stax would land a more productive deal with another company and then become CBS’s direct competitor.
The Staple Singers – Let’s Do It Again
The BarKays – Holy Ghost
Isaac Hayes – I Stand Accused