By James Calemine
Charles “Packy” Axton–to some extent–was an unsung hero on the Memphis music scene during the late 50s, 60s and early 70s. Axton’s mother, Estelle, founded Stax Records with her brother Jim Stewart.
Packy started a band called the Royal Spades that included Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Don Nix, Wayne Jackson and Terry Johnson. The band changed its name to the Mar-Keys and recorded a Top Ten hit, but soon Cropper departed the band to eventually play with Booker T & The MGs.
Axton played sessions with Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and he always remained on the pulse of true soul music until his death at 32 in 1974. Late Late Party serves as a collection of Axton’s various groups he recorded with from 1965 to 1967. Wayne Jackson had this to say about his old friend and bandmate:
“Packy would tell you to kiss his ass in a second–he just would. I loved him because of that, because he was a real open guy. He wasn’t a bullshit artist at all. I loved Packy to pieces. He was a heart player, from his soul. He was a saxophone player who came from the street. He didn’t come from a school…”
These 17 tracks include some of the most talented musicians in Memphis. The opening cut, a festive instrumental called “Holiday Cheer”, features guitarist Lee Baker (Jim Dickinson\bandmate in Mudboy & The Neutrons), the Hi-Rhythm Section and Packy blowing the sax. “Bullseye” and “Hangover” feature the same group–The Martinis–as in the opening song.
Axton played on Stacy Lane’s “No Ending” as well as L. H. & The Memphis Sound’s “House Full of Rooms”. “Stone Fox” counts as one of this collection’s finest tracks rendered by the Pac-Keys. Cropper and Booker T played on “Hole In the Wall” with Axton as The Packers. All of these songs were recorded either at Ardent Studios or Royal Studios in Memphis except two tracks.
The Martini’s “South American Robot” contains a Ska-like sound while the group’s tune “Key Chain” remains drenched in southern soul. It’s a shame this band did not continue. L.H White’s vocal on “I’m A Fool (In Love)” floats from the speakers like some lost R&B jewel.
The last three songs on this disc really capture Axton’s musical spirit. “Greasy Pumpkin” features The Pac-Keys. This super group included Axton, Lee Baker (guitar), Carl Cunningham (drums), Leroy Hodges (bass), Teenie Hodges (guitar) and Hubby Turner (keys). The last two tunes feature the same line-up, but the songs were recorded as The Martinis.
The title song closes this musical party with a laid-back groove. Late Late Party resonates like a high-grade musical education…