If you've ever heard the brilliant unison horns that play the starting phrases on records such as "Knock On Wood," "Hold On, I'm Comin'" or "In The Midnight Hour," then you've experienced the excitement that the Memphis Horns can stir when opening a song.
The enthusiasm exhibited by these extraordinary session players appears on every recording take, every rehearsal and every live show that they have been involved with. If you call the Memphis Horns, you know what you're going to get: solid horn lines and warm, flowing harmonies to accentuate the vocals or highlight the melody.
I had the pleasure of working with founding members Wayne Jackson and Andrew Love during my days at Stax Records as a fellow session player. Nicer guys, or more hardworking and reliable people, you just couldn't find. They were true team players.
I remember working with them on the introduction to Otis Redding's version of "Try A Little Tenderness." Otis said he wanted to begin with a horn part that was reminiscent of a traditional southern ballad for this slow romantic song. What at first seemed a simple request morphed into a maze of musical possibilities. This note or that? Start in unison and develop into harmony. Build here, a decrescendo there.
As the Horns patiently entertained and played through Otis' ruminations, which he hummed to them, as well as the ideas of other musicians, including myself, I witnessed their endurance and professionalism. The process of inclusion and elimination, which in times past might have taken only a few minutes, stretched out for more than an hour, but the simple, beautiful gem that resulted was well worth it, and we started the song with this longing, emotive phrase.
Only the horns are heard during this introduction. Plainly presented and arguably one of history's most moving showpieces, they pave the way for Otis' aching vocal performance.
An essential element of the Stax family, and a unit unto themselves, they put their distinctive mark on the Memphis sound before they expanded to the wider musical community.
Aside from Otis, the Memphis Horns played on Stax records by Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, and Rufus and Carla Thomas. You can also hear them on recordings by the Doobie Brothers, Al Green, Neil Diamond, Elvis Presley, the Robert Cray Band, U2, and Neil Young. They are members of the Musicians Hall of Fame.
And now the time has finally come for the recording industry to play a unison note in tribute to the men that defined what a horn section should be.
(Booker T. Jones played on countless hits as a member of Stax Records' house band, Booker T. & The MG's. The band also recorded their own gold records, won a Best Pop Instrumental Performance GRAMMY in 1994 for “Cruisin'" and received their own Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.)
In addition to the GRAMMY Awards, The Recording Academy presents Special Merit Awards recognizing contributions of significance to the recording field, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, Trustees Award and Technical GRAMMY Award [http://www.grammy.org/recording-academy/awards/technical-awards]. Each year, The Academy invites friends and colleagues of Special Merit Awards recipients to pay tribute to the honorees' career accomplishments, while also adding colorful anecdotes and personal accounts. In the days leading up to the 54th GRAMMY Awards, GRAMMY.com will present the tributes to the 2012 Special Merit Awards recipients.
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