Horn player Wayne Jackson was born Nov. 24, 1941, in West Memphis, and helped craft the Memphis rhythm and blues sound especially typified by Stax and Hi Records.
Known particularly for his trumpet work, Jackson — dubbed “the West Memphis Flash” — can be heard on R&B hits by Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Aretha Franklin and countless more.
Jackson began establishing his credentials early on. “Mother bought me a guitar when I was about 7,” he said. “I learned to play a little from the Church of Christ minister’s son, and I began to “Then, when I was 11, Mother bought me a trumpet. The first time I opened the case and smelled the oil and felt the brass, it was hypnotic to me. That’s what direction my life took from that moment on. I’d play my trumpet until my mouth hurt, and then I’d play guitar until my fingers hurt.”
By high school, Jackson was marching in the West Memphis High School band and competing with upperclassmen for first chair in trumpet. He was still a teen-ager the first time he set foot in a studio — which was also when he cut his first hit. Released on Stax in June 1961, “Last Night” by the Mar-Keys hit No. 2 on the R&B charts and No. 3 pop. “All we do is go ‘da-da,’” Jackson says of the horn part.
From there, Jackson played horns on many enduring R&B songs — “In the Midnight Hour,” “Respect,” “Knock on Wood,” “Mustang Sally,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “B-A-B-Y,” “You Make Me Feel Like (A Natural Woman),” “Land of 1,000 Dances.” Whether it was fellow Crittenden County native Johnnie Taylor, or Albert King, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, Carla or Rufus Thomas, if the song was on Stax Records and had horns — and a lot of them had horns — it was probably Jackson.
“One day, Steve Cropper called me and said, ‘I need you to come play on a [Stax] record,’ ” Jackson explains. “So I went over there … and I was there every day for the next 10 years.”
Stax used a basic house band for most sessions; it included guitarist Cropper, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and keyboardist Booker T. Jones. All had been Mar-Keys, and with drummer Al Jackson Jr. (no relation) the trio formed Booker T. and the MGs. When they weren’t recording hits for others, the MGs issued instrumentals. Jackson can be heard on most of them.
In 1967, Jackson and the other Mar-Keys horns backed Otis Redding at the Monterey Pop Festival, the first major American rock festival. More than 50,000 fans witnessed Redding’s triumphant show firsthand — many more have seen it on film. The Memphis musicians weren’t sure what the emerging psychedelic scene in California would think of their suits and dance steps, but they were embraced. The rest of America beyond the South had been catching on as well. However, Redding, the music’s standard bearer, died in a plane crash that December.
But Wayne Jackson’s career did not end with Redding, or even with Stax Records. In fact, Jackson’s career was just getting started — he had yet to even form the Memphis Horns.
• “Last Night,” The Mar-Keys
• “Soul Man,” Sam and Dave
• “Try a Little Tenderness,” Otis Redding
• “Boot-Leg,” Booker T. and the MGs