The Mar-Keys: Plantation Inn & Grab This Thing Pt. 1

From The Great Memphis Sound (Stax, 1966)

One of Soul Sides’ listeners wrote in to audaciously suggest that I wasn’t that into Memphis. Hold thy tongue! You don’t see my stacks of Stax? How I get high on Hi? O-Dub loves Memphis like a fat kid loves cake. Don’t get it twizzled.

Just to prove the point, I pulled out one of my favorite albums off of Stax, the definitive Memphis soul label (no disrespect to Willie Mitchell but no one’s really touching Stax’s volume and influence). The Mar-Keys were Stax’s first in-house studio band, laying down rhythm tracks for most of the label’s early roster (they’re not to be confused with the Bar-Kays, also on Stax, who were the backing band for Otis Redding until most of them died in the same plane crash that claimed Redding’s life). As instrumentalists, it’s hard to find another squad at the time that could mess with ’em: when two of your founding members go on to form Booker T. and the MGs, you’re pretty much talking about the best o’ the best.

Their 1966 album, The Great Memphis Sound is at the front-era of the funk era (though it’s unlikely anyone actually would have named it as such then). You can hear how solid the rhythm section is on this with the holy triumphirate of Dunn, Cropper and Jackson laying down a mean groove on “Plantation Inn,” (who’s touching Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass? No one, that’s who). The real heat though is “Grab This Thing,” which, in my book, is the best goddamn instrumental burner I’ve heard off of Stax (though I’m open to competitors). I’ve heard this cut compared to something Sam and Dave might have cooked up but while the heavy brass sections might share some similarities, “Grab This Thing,” is so deep in the pocket, it can reach down and tie your shoelaces.

By the way, “Grab This Thing,” is on 45 – it used to be easier to come by but then Shadow and Cut Chemist used “Pt. 2” of the song for Brainfreeze and suddenly, the single became far scarcer.