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Charles "Packy" Axton

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Charles "Packy" Axton was a minor player on the Memphis soul scene in the 1960s, but he certainly had a knack for bring in the right place at the right time, and was a key figure behind two seminal hit singles. Born on February 17, 1941, Axton was the son of Estelle Axton, who with her brother Jim Stewart, founded Satellite Records in 1959, changing the name to Stax Records in 1961. Packy was a fan of the same sort of Southern R&B music that influenced the early Stax sound, and in 1958, he and some high school friends founded a band called the Royal Spades; Packy played tenor sax and helped write the songs, with Steve Cropper and Charlie Freeman on guitars, Donald "Duck" Dunn on bass, Jerry Lee "Smoochie" Smith on keyboards, Don Nix on baritone sax, Wayne Jackson on trumpet, and Terry Johnson on drums. Estelle and Jim recruited the Royal Spades to back Carla Thomas and Rufus Thomas on some of their early sides for Stax, and in 1961, the group began recording material of their own. Changing their name to the Mar-Keys, they enjoyed a Top Ten hit with "Last Night," an instrumental with a potent, sinewy groove; its success also prompted Satellite's name change when it sold well enough to attract the notice of another label called Satellite, based in Los Angeles. While the Mar-Keys recorded a handful of other singles, none came close to the success of "Last Night," and the group began to splinter after Cropper left to form Booker T. & the MGs; conflicts between Packy and Cropper over the leadership of the combo, and Packy's fondness for alcohol have been cited as a contributing factors. While Packy continued to play sessions with a variety of R&B and soul acts, including Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, he fell out of favor at Stax following disagreements with Jim Stewart, who didn't care for Packy's reputation for partying and casual attitude towards schedules, and he relocated to Los Angeles. In 1965, Packy briefly reunited with Steve Cropper to record some material with him, drummer Al Jackson, and keyboard man Booker T. Jones. The ad hoc band was called the Packers, and one of their tunes, "Hole in the Wall," became a hit, rising to the Top Ten of the R&B charts. Packy put together a band of L.A. musicians to tour behind the single, and after it ran its course, he moved back to Memphis. He recorded a number of singles through the '60s with various groups of leading Memphis session players under a variety of names, including the Pac-Keys and the Martinis, but despite the quality of the material he never scored another hit. Packy continued to work as a sessionman and bandleader until his death in 1974. In 2011, Light in the Attic Records released a collection of Packy Axton's rare soul instrumental singles, Late Late Party.


February 17, 1941 in Memphis, TN

Years Active:

'60s, '70s


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