Stax Records, Memphis’ most successful record label was founded by Bluff City natives Jim Stewart and his sister, Estelle Axton. But Al Bell, born Alvertis Isbell in 1940 in Brinkley and raised in North Little Rock, became a driving force behind the company.
Mr. Bell, who also worked in the Civil Rights movement, began promoting records for Stax in 1965. He became a co-owner in 1968 and solo operator of Stax in 1972. Stax Records is said to be one of the most musically and culturally influential labels of the second half of the 20th century.
Mr. Bell came to Stax after working at various radio stations, including KOKY in Little Rock, and stations in Memphis and Washington. He helped run the company, produced records and wrote songs, including the No.1 R&B and pop song “I’ll Take You There” by The Staple Singers. After Stax closed its doors, Bell started another record label, Bellmark Records, which was responsible for a handful of hits in the early 90’s including the smash runaway hit “Whoomp There It Is” which sold more than 4 million copies.
Mr. Bell, who in Washington started a label called Safice, brought Safice artist Eddie Floyd to Stax. Mr. Bell also put together national and international package tours for such Stax artists as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, and Carla Thomas. He gained Redding exposure at the Monterey Pop Festival, featuring Otis, Hendrix, and the Who, which gained Stax crossover appeal.
Today Mr. Bell and his wife, Sylvia, reside in North Little Rock. Along with his son he operates Alpine Records, which has a recording studio in Bryant.