Introduction

Formed in 1958, The Mar-Keys played a pivotal role in shaping the early 1960s Stax sound as the first house band for the label. This blog post delves into their fascinating career, from early successes to their lasting legacy.

Career

Early Success with “Last Night” (1961)

The journey began when The Royal Spades transformed into The Mar-Keys, with their breakthrough hit “Last Night” reaching number three on the US charts in 1961. This organ- and saxophone-driven single became a gold disc, selling over a million copies.

Follow-ups and Fragmentation (1961–1966)

While subsequent singles and albums under the Mar-Keys name didn’t match the success of “Last Night,” the band continued to contribute as the racially integrated Stax Records house band. The lineup evolved, featuring notable musicians like Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Booker T. Jones, and Isaac Hayes.

The Demise and Transition (1966)

As the success of individual members, particularly Booker T. & the M.G.’s, overshadowed the Mar-Keys, the group’s presence on singles declined. The decision to release “Boot-Leg” as a Booker T. & the M.G.’s track marked the end of the Mar-Keys’ era on the charts by the close of 1966.

The Six-Man Line-up (1967–1969)

In the late 1960s, the Mar-Keys name resurfaced during live performances, collaborating with Booker T. & the M.G.’s. The sextet, including Andrew Love and Wayne Jackson (Memphis Horns), released the album “Damifiknow!” in 1969 but failed to recapture chart success.

Final Years (1970–1971)

The Mar-Keys’ last credited album, “Memphis Experience” (1971), assembled instrumental cuts from various sources, marking the end of an era. Legacy-wise, they were instrumental in shaping Southern and Memphis soul.

Legacy and Recent Activity

The Mar-Keys left an indelible mark on soul music. In 2012, a reunion saw original members and former M.G. Lewie Steinberg regroup, showcasing the timeless influence of their music. Terry Johnson, a key figure, passed away in 2016.

FAQs

What is The Mar-Keys’ most famous song?

“Last Night,” released in 1961, remains their most famous and successful single.

Who were the core members of The Mar-Keys?

The lineup varied, but key contributors included Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Booker T. Jones, and others.

What led to the decline of The Mar-Keys on the charts?

The success of individual members, especially Booker T. & the M.G.’s, contributed to the decline.

Conclusion

The Mar-Keys’ impact on Southern soul and Memphis soul is undeniable. As architects of the Stax sound, their journey reflects the dynamic evolution of a band integral to the golden era of soul music. Though their chart presence waned, their legacy endures, influencing generations of musicians.