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Chips Moman - the missing man of Memphis music

Born in 1936 in LaGrange, Georgia, Chips Moman made his name as one of the architects of the Memphis Sound, an edgier style of soul music descended from Memphis' blues and rhythm and blues.

Settling in Memphis in the late 1950s, he helped establish soulful Stax Records in 1958. Six years later, Moman and fellow producer Bob Crewe founded American Sound Studios. Both; the champions of the Memphis Sound. In 1969, Moman produced Elvis' album, 'From Elvis in Memphis', and the hit songs 'In the Ghetto', 'Suspicious Minds' and 'Kentucky Rain' with the studio's house band The Memphis Boys. Other artists who recorded at American Sound Studio included Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, Neil Diamond, Dusty Springfield, B. J. Thomas, Petula Clark, Joe Tex, Roy Hamilton and The Box Tops.

By: Bob Mehr
The Commercial Appeal
Original Article: July 13, 2008

Chips Moman - the missing man of Memphis music
Elvis Presley and Chips Moman at American Studios 1969.

This is not a sob story or a tale of woe, or a plea for pity or praise. But for Lincoln 'Chips' Moman it's about respect -- respect earned, but not given. In music, few men could claim more or finer achievements. A gifted rockabilly guitarist and band leader in the 1950s, Moman went on to become one of the architects of Stax Records and author of some of the most enduring songs in the history of rhythm-and-blues and country music -- from 'Dark End of the Street' to 'Luckenbach Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)' (Sung by Waylon Jennings ). Besides Sam Phillips , he was the only man to effectively produce Elvis Presley -- helping midwife The King's creative rebirth in 1969. And it was Moman who helped build and shape American Sound Studios and its house band -- generating the most prolific run of chart hits ever.

Chips Moman - the missing man of Memphis music
Elvis Presley at American Studios 1969.

Yet, for the last two decades, Chips Moman has been a cipher, a ghost, the missing man of Memphis music. Much of that is his own doing, of course. Sensitive and highly strung, Moman left Memphis twice -- once in the '70s and again in the '80s -- under acrimonious circumstances. Still, for a town that values its musical history, Moman has been curiously consigned to footnote status. You'll find little mention of him or the American Studios band in the Rock 'N' Soul Museum or the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and their names were all but absent from the city-sponsored year-long musical celebrations of 2004 and 2007.

The 71-year-old Moman has been back living in LaGrange, Ga., where he was born, for the past decade. Though semi-retired, he still makes his way to Nashville for the odd session or to get together with friends. But one place he doesn't visit is Memphis. 'I've stayed away', says Moman, in an easy drawl. 'I have no desire to ever be back there. I don't know, man. It's really kind of hard to talk about, 'cause a lot of things that went on there hurt me tremendously'. Moman couldn't possibly have anticipated either the triumph or the trials he would face when he first hitchhiked from LaGrange to Memphis as a 14-year-old back in 1951. 'I never knew I'd be in the music business', he says. 'I never gave it any thought. But I'd been playing guitar since I was a child'.

His eventual 'discovery' seems like a story lifted from an old Hollywood script. Sitting in a local drugstore, strumming away on a six-string, he was spotted by Sun rockabilly star

Warren Smith. 'He asked me if I wanted a job', says Moman, who played his first gig backing Smith at an Arkansas club on a bill that included Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison. 'That's how I went into the business'.

Moman quickly became a hotshot local guitarist, and joined up with brothers Johnny and Dorsey Burnette. He traveled with them for sessions in California at the famed Gold Star Recording Studios. Moman watched and studied noted engineer Stan Ross behind the board. 'And from what I'd learned in California, I decided to take that experience and put it to work in Memphis', he says. His chance came when he was called to do a session at a tiny garage studio in Brunswick, Tenn., owned by Jim Stewart. Moman and Stewart hit it off, and decided to join forces to start what would become Satellite, and eventually, Stax Records. 'I found that old theater (on McLemore), and the rent was only $50 a month. Went back and told Jim Stewart that and we rented it and built it out. That was the start of Stax. The rest is what happened'. What happened has been the subject of some controversy and debate over the years. Certainly, Moman played a pivotal role in Stax's development. He was the one who recorded the label's initial hits by Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and William Bell; helped develop 'Last Night', the song that would become The Mar-Keys' smash; and was the one who was musically predisposed to turning Stax from a white country music company into a black R&B label in the first place.

But a rancorous split with Stewart and his sister and co-owner, Estelle Axton, in 1962 brought all that to an abrupt end. As music historians Rob Bowman and Peter Guralnick have detailed, recriminations flew: Moman said he'd been cheated out of profits and ownership, while

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