(Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series.)
After helping craft the Memphis R&B sound of the 1960s, trumpeter Wayne Jackson of West Memphis had many avenues to explore.
Right out of the West Memphis High School band, the Crittenden County native recorded a hit his first day in the studio on the Mar-Keys instrumental “Last Night.” He sessioned mainly at Stax Records, appearing on such sides as “Knock on Wood,” “Respect,” and “Hold On! I’m Coming.” But a 1967 Stax tour of Europe showed many how widely popular their music was.
Jackson and Booker T and the MG’s bassist “Duck” Dunn reluctantly had to give up their six-night-a-week gig at the Memphis club Hernando’s Hideaway to take the trip. The Beatles sent their limos to pick up the musicians and singers at the airport, where they were mobbed by press and fans. “We didn’t know we were stars,” Jackson said. “We had had an impact.”
By 1969, Jackson and Andrew Love had left Stax Records and gone out on their own. They incorporated as the Memphis Horns, changing their name from the Mar-Key Horns.
“We didn’t have a choice,” Jackson says. “I went back in [Stax owner Jim Stewart’s] office and said ‘We’d like to be off the payroll.’ Because we just felt like there was a career out there in the world for us, and we needed to go see about it. We were young — we were 27, and it was time to spread our wings. And we did.”
Jackson and Love doubled their fee — and still found themselves busy. Also in 1969, their work with another Memphis entertainer, Elvis Presley, helped Presley score his first No. 1 single in seven years, “Suspicious Minds.”
“Our tones match,” Jackson says of playing with Love. “As a section, when we played, it had a distinct sound to it. I knew Andrew and I had something special. We just decided one day to stick together.”
So, after an already impressive resume, the Memphis Horns found themselves on the road and in the studio with the biggest stars of the 1970s — Rod Stewart, the Doobie Brothers and Wayne Jackson’s fellow East Arkansas native Al Green.
Jackson and Love finished out the century as revered masters, even celebrating their anniversary at Memphis’ Pyramid. The Memphis Horns recorded with such 1980s and 1990s hitmakers as U2, Sting, Steve Winwood, Bonnie Raitt, Collective Soul, Robert Cray, Peter Gabriel and Willie Nelson.
The Memphis Horns released their own album in 1970, and issued several more through the decade, four on RCA Records. Jackson and Love resumed recording Memphis Horns albums in the 1990s, including a 1996 Christmas record and a 1995 release with guests such as Mavis Staples, William Bell and Etta James.
In 2000, Wayne Jackson released a solo album, “Sweet Medicine Music,” and in 2005 self-published his memoirs, “In My Wildest Dreams: A Collection of Rock and Roll Tales, Volume One.”
While not discounting his days in the Doobies or on latter-day songs like “Angel of Harlem” and “Sledgehammer,” Jackson adds, “I didn’t know that the Stax records were going to hold up like they’ve held up — the ones that you hear on the elevator in South Africa, or in Tokyo, wherever you go, you hear ‘Try a Little Tenderness.’ But the lyrics and the grooves were all there — big time.”
• “Things Get Better,” Eddie Floyd
• “Angel of Harlem,” U2
• “Let’s Stay Together,” Al Green
• “Suspicious Minds,” Elvis Presley
• “In The Ghetto,” Elvis Presley