The Beatles consider recording their new album at Stax Records, Memphis

Spring 1966
Timeline More from year 1966
Stax Records, Memphis, USA

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To record their new LP (that would become “Revolver“), The Beatles considered moving away from EMI Studios at Abbey Road. They came to the idea that they could record at Stax Records studios in Memphis, as they loved the records that had come out of those studios. From Wikipedia:

Stax Records is an American record company, originally based in Memphis, Tennessee. Founded in 1957 as Satellite Records, the label changed its name to Stax Records in 1961. It also shared its operations with sister label Volt Records.

Stax was influential in the creation of Southern soul and Memphis soul music. Stax also released gospel, funk, and blues recordings. Renowned for its output of blues music, the label was founded by two siblings and business partners, Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton (STewart/AXton = Stax). It featured several popular ethnically integrated bands (including the label’s house band, Booker T. & the M.G.’s) and a racially integrated team of staff and artists unprecedented in that time of racial strife and tension in Memphis and the South. According to ethnomusicologist Rob Bowman, the label’s use of “one studio, one equipment set-up, the same set of musicians and a small group of songwriters led to a readily identifiable sound. It was a sound based in black gospel, blues, country, and earlier forms of rhythm and blues (R&B). It became known as southern soul music.

Following the death of Stax’s biggest star, Otis Redding, in 1967, and the severance of the label’s distribution deal with Atlantic Records in 1968, Stax continued primarily under the supervision of a new co-owner, Al Bell. Over the next five years, Bell expanded the label’s operations significantly, in order to compete with Stax’s main rival, Motown Records in Detroit. During the mid-1970s, a number of factors, including a problematic distribution deal with CBS Records, caused the label to slide into insolvency, resulting in its forced closure in late 1975. […]

Paul McCartney remembered this idea in 2022:

The album sessions that turned into Revolver were originally planned at Stax Studio in Memphis with Jim Stewart producing, but it ended up being recorded at EMI. Do you think Revolver would have been a completely different album if you had gone that way?

Paul: It could have been – the only reason you want to record in those kind of studios is because you love the records that come out of the studios. So, we loved a lot of Stax stuff but ultimately I’m glad we didn’t record there. 

EMI was our home, and we didn’t have to deal with anything other than making the record. If you’re in a strange studio there’s things you got to deal with, as you’re getting used to the new surroundings and so on. At EMI we knew the space and the people, so it was just a case of concentrating on making the record

Famously, Revolver was the first Beatles album that couldn’t be played live as so much of it relied on the EMI studio technology – do you think the record might have sounded more ‘live’ if you had done it at Stax? 

Paul: It could have, yeah. In a different circumstance we might not have felt we could take as much time with the record. EMI was always home, so it was easy to push boundaries and get creative. We didn’t have to think about it! And the really great thing about EMI, let’s not forget, was that it had instruments lying around. There was the Mrs Mills Piano, the sound effects cupboard, a harpsichord, a celesta, the Lowrey organ (which I used on the next album Sgt. Pepper, on ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’) – this stuff was all there. A Mellotron, even! EMI was definitely the best place for us. 

From, October 28, 2022

In March 1966, Brian Epstein travelled to Memphis, Tennessee, to discuss the opportunity for The Beatles to record at Stax Records studios. The visit leaked to the local newspaper on March 31, 1966, just after he left the city.

Beatles to Record Here

The most popular recording group in the world, The Beatles of England, will come to Memphis and stay about two weeks while they make some records here, it was learned today.

Their manager, Brian Epstein, was in Memphis a few weeks ago, stayed at the Holiday Inn-Rivermont, checking out security arrangements.

Mrs. Estelle Axton, co-owner with Jim Stewart of Stax Records of Memphis, confirmed today that The Beatles are coming. They are scheduled to arrive April 9.

She said they had been impressed by the Stax “sound” on records they heard of Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Booker T. and the MGs, and other Stax artists.

It is planned that they will cut one album and at least one single in the Stax studio at 926 E. McLemore. In charge of the sessions will be Jim Stewart, arranger Steve Cropper and Tom Dowd, of Atlantic Records.

Mrs. Axton said where the Beatles will stay is unsettled as yet. “They want a house, and a suitable one is hard to find. We’re not used to something like this in a town this size. We think we have located the proper house. When we make final arrangements, we’ll have to fence it, and of course it will be guarded constantly.

Stax was organized in 1959, has had unusual success with Negro artists.

From The Memphis Press-Scimitar – March 31, 1966
From The Memphis Press-Scimitar – March 31, 1966

Rob Bowman’s 1997 book on Stax, “Soulsville, U.S.A. : the story of Stax Records“, gives more details about this visit, from the perspective of the Stax Studios owners, Estelle Axton and Jim Stewart, and Steve Cropper who was part of the Stax house band named Booker T. and the M.G.’s:

According to Estelle [Axton, co-owner with Jim Stewart of Stax Records], Epstein initially contacted Atlantic, which then notified Stax. Tom Dowd was immediately dispatched to Memphis to check over the equipment. In the meantime, Estelle, who was always the company’s emissary, was sent to the airport to meet Brian Epstein, check him into his hotel, and then bring him to 926 E. McLemore. After giving Epstein a quick tour of the studio, Steve Cropper and Jim Stewart headed off for Florida for a couple of days of much-needed rest and relaxation. Estelle stayed on, playing host to the Beatles’ manager, chauffeuring him to and fro from his suite at the Rivermont Hotel to the Stax studio, local restaurants, and an estate out on Walnut Grove that one of the primary stockholders of the First National Bank had offered for Epstein’s use.

Shortly after Epstein left Memphis, the news media converged on the McLemore studio, that evening’s television news reporting that the Beatles were planning to record at Stax before their upcoming summer tour. The Stax studio was immediately besieged as young Memphians, fraught with Beatlemania, mindlessly gathered at the studio. When Jim Stewart saw it on the news in Florida he was furious, phoning Estelle thinking that she had leaked the story. Estelle has always thought that the women at the front desk of the Rivermont recognized her and Epstein and, putting two and two together, tipped members of the local news media.

In actuality, the news could have leaked out through a variety of sources. Johnny Keyes recalls walking into the studio and encountering Jim’s secretary, Linda Andrews, in a very agitated state. “Linda says, I know a secret, I know a secret. I can’t tell you, I can’t tell you. You’ll tell somebody. I’ve got a secret. Oh, I’m about to bust open. Deanie, Deanie, can we tell him?’ I replied, ‘Hey, either tell me or don’t. Don’t go through these gyrations.’ So they said, “The Beatles are coming!'” So much for the well-guarded secret!

Before all hell broke out, Estelle had told several of the Stax songwriters that they needed to get material together as the Beatles were intending to cover some contemporary rhythm and blues. It seems doubtful that the Beatles had this in mind; at this point in their career they had stopped recording covers. What probably happened was that Estelle, being the enterprising person that she was, simply thought that here was an opportunity to at least try to pitch songs to the Beatles, and so everyone should be prepared. Johnny Keyes and Ronnie Gordon wrote “Out of Control,” which eventually was recorded by L. H. and the Memphis Sounds. Cropper was hopeful that the Beatles would want to use him as an engineer and that perhaps some of the Stax session musicians would be asked to contribute a lick or two.

Deanie Parker doesn’t remember writing any songs for the event. She had other things on her mind. “I was so overwhelmed at the excitement that the Beatles had created with the mere fact that they might visit the studio that I decided immediately after they left that the carpet was coming up. I was going to cut it into little pieces and sell them. With the money I made from that I could replace the carpet and still have a large profit left over!”

Alas, the Beatles never came to Stax to record. According to Steve, from what he was told, Epstein concluded that there was not enough security in Memphis and consequently decided the Beatles should record at Atlantic in New York. Cropper still hoped to be involved. “By the time Epstein got back,” recalls Steve, “he called me and said, ‘Well, I guess we’re gonna have to do it on the next project because they’ve already got almost all of the album recorded.'”

Curiously enough, as far as I can tell, this incident is not well known and is not mentioned in any Beatles book,” despite the fact that Memphis deejay George Klein vividly recalls asking the Beatles about it at their Memphis press conference before their August 19 shows at the Mid-South Coliseum. Either George or Paul affirmed that they had been discussing the possibility of recording at Stax and mentioned how much they admired the records coming out of the Stax studio. [..]

From “Soulsville, U.S.A. : the story of Stax Records” by Robert Bowman, 1997

In those days there was not much mention of George Martin, at least in Memphis. We also didn’t listen to much Beatle or pop music. Only what was played on radio. I just assumed from what I was told by Epstein that they wanted me to produce them. We never got far enough to discuss engineers or other musicians’ involvement. Brian Epstein was around for a couple of days. He only came to the studio to discuss things so I didn’t hang with him or anything. We talked a few times by phone when he returned to England.

Steve Cropper – Interview with Steve Turner – From “Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year” by Steve Turner, 2016

If Steve Cropper mentions the perceived lack of security was the reason this didn’t happen, George Harrison, in a letter dated May 1966, suggests another idea: “We would all like it a lot, but too many people get insane with money ideas at the mention of the word ‘Beatles’, so it fell through!

Harrison Letter Offers New View of Beatles at Stax Story

A second postscript to a nearly 50-year old letter from George Harrison is shedding new light on an intriguing plan by the Beatles to record at Stax Records in South Memphis. The May 1966 handwritten letter from Harrison to Atlanta radio personality Paul Drew was recently sold for an undisclosed price by Los Angeles collector Jeff Gold.

As Rolling Stone reported this week, a “P.S.S.” at the bottom of the three-page letter reads: “Did you hear that we nearly recorded in Memphis with Jim Stewart (co-founder of Stax)? We would all like it a lot, but too many people get insane with money ideas at the mention of the word ‘Beatles’, so it fell through!” […]

From Harrison Letter Offers New View of Beatles at Stax Story – Memphis Daily News, May 28, 2015

It was said that you would record Revolver in Memphis. What happened?

Little things kept getting in the way, like money. We wanted to come. A couple of tracks would have been much better if we had come. We wanted Steve Cropper, a guitarist for Booker T & The MG’s to A & R the session. He’s the best we’ve heard.

Paul McCartney – From Press conference in Memphis, Aug 19, 1966

We were going to record ‘Revolver’ in America. But they wanted a fantastic amount of money to use the facilities there. We thought we’d forget it because they were obviously trying to take us for a ride because we were the Beatles. We’d been thinking about going to record there for some time. It would have been for a certain sound — an American sound. The Stones have it now on their records and they get better all the time. Then when we finished ‘Revolver’ we realised that we’d found a new British sound almost by accident.

l think there were only two tracks on that LP that would have sounded better if we’d cut them in America, ‘Taxman’ and ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ because they need that raw quality that you just can’t get in this country for some reason. But ‘Eleanor Rigby’ would have been worse because the string players in America aren’t so good.

Yes, we may still record in the States. What we would do is write some numbers especially, take them over, do them and see how it works out.

Paul McCartney – Interview with Disc And Music Echo, September 10, 1966

We wanted to record some of the tracks for ‘Revolver” in Memphis, but it all fell through for various reasons, when Brian went over there to check up. We did go into the matter again when we were on our last American tour. but we found that the idea was going to prove very expensive and, as we didn’t like being taken for a ride just because we’re Beatles, we dropped it.

One of the reasons why we wanted to try doing some recording in the States is that we have heard so much about the different sound they get.

I think that ‘Revolver did produce a new sound anyway. Perhaps by accident, perhaps not. We have been looking for it for a long time, and something was definitely there.

We’d still like to record in the States. but I can’t see it happening in the near future.”

Paul McCartney – From The Beatles Monthly Book, November 1966

The equipment in most British recording studios is much better than it is in the States. But there’s some extra bit they get to the sound over there that we haven’t quite got. I don’t know what it is yet, but you get the sensation of that little bit more. The Stones always tell us we’d be better if we recorded in the States, but we never have. We probably will eventually.

You put a record of ours with an American record and don’t alter the volume, and you’ll find the American record is always that fraction louder. And it has a lucid something I can’t explain. Funny, because as I say, I believe we’re technically better in Britain.

Paul McCartney – Interview with RAVE Magazine, April 1966

There were problems with that. Firstly, I didn’t want to record in the States. Secondly, from EMI’s point of view it wouldn’t have made sense because every record would have had to bear the 1.5 percent AFM [American Federation of Musicians] levy. It wasn’t feasible. Anyway, I had to do what EMI told me.

George Martin – 1987 interview with Steve Turner – From “Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year” by Steve Turner


The Beatles are likely to record during their American tour which begins in August — if satisfactory studios can be found in time. It is understood that Brian Epstein has been viewing a number of studios, including some in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Beatles open their trek on August 12 in Chicago and end with a concert in San Francisco on August 29. They will again play at New York’s mammoth Shea Stadium (23) where they filmed last year. They also visit Detroit (13), Louisville (14), Washington (15), Philadelphia (16), Toronto (17), Boston (18), Memphis (19), Cincinnati (20), St. Louis (21), Seattle (25) and Los Angeles (28).

In June, the group visits Germany for three concerts then flies to Japan for shows at Tokyo Stadium from July 1.

From Record Mirror – April 30, 1966
From Record Mirror – April 30, 1966


There is a very strong possibility that the Beatles’ new single will be recorded in America. After working on arrangements during late March and early April in EMI’s St. John’s Wood Studios they plan to fly to Memphis to actually record several numbers on April 11. They have wanted to do a recording session in America for a long time now.

From Beat Instrumental – April 1964
From Beat Instrumental – April 1964

In July 1966, The Beatles found themselves ensnared in a controversy stemming from John Lennon’s remark in an interview that The Beatles “were more popular than Jesus.” The epicentre of the backlash was the Bible Belt, particularly in the southern USA. Given the intensity of the sentiment, there was palpable apprehension surrounding The Beatles’ scheduled visit to Memphis. Some speculated that the controversy in Memphis was influenced by The Beatles’ decision not to record there, as suggested by this article in Melody Maker:

Beatle knockers

[…] to people with certain religious beliefs.”

Most of the criticism, Epstein went on, “came from the southern American Bible Belt” where Methodist and Baptist churches predominate in influence.

Radio stations in two cities — Birmingham, Alabama, and Memphis, Tennessee — were credited with having started the so-called anti-Beatle movement At the latest count, on Friday, a total of 22 radio stations in a nation where there are about 4,000 operating stations, were known to have thrown in their lot with the anti-Beatle forces.

One facet of the developments which escaped the attention of most of the press was the fact that when the Beatles had planned a secret visit to Memphis earlier this year to record there, a radio station got wind of the plan and exposed it to the public.

So frantic was the furore created by the news reports that Epstein cancelled the visit and took a dim view of the station’s action as well. Some observers believe this was one way Memphis radio took to obtain revenge against the Beatles’ establishment. […]

From Melody Maker – August 13, 1966
From Melody Maker – August 13, 1966

Last updated on November 29, 2023

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