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Published on Feb 1, 2011
The Mar-Keys, formed in 1958, were an American studio session band for the Stax label from Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1960s. As the first house band for the label, their backing music formed the foundation for the early 1960s Stax sound.
The group began as The Royal Spades and had tried unsuccessfully to get a record made for the local Satellite Records even though tenor sax player Charles "Packy" Axton's mother and uncle owned that label. When they were finally able to get a record made, Axton's mother Estelle Axton convinced the group to change their name and they chose The Mar-Keys.
They also recorded organ and saxophone oriented singles of their own, scoring a number three hit nationally with "Last Night" in 1961. It sold over one million copies, earning gold disc recognition. Keyboards were played by Jerry Lee "Smoochy" Smith. Other singles of theirs from the early 1960s include "Philly Dog" and "Popeye Stroll." Members of this rhythm section later formed other nationally prominent Memphis studio session groups, including the Memphis Horns, the Packers, and Booker T. & the M.G.'s. Each of these offshoot groups also recorded popular instrumental albums of their own, in addition to serving as the backing band on albums by dozens of rock, R&B, and soul music stars on Stax, Volt and other national labels. The legacy of the Mar-Keys and later groups was that of having been key players in the development of soul music styles like Southern soul and Memphis soul.