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Celebrating Stax

It's been a banner summer for Stax Records. The soulful Memphis, Tenn., R&B label observed its 50th anniversary last month, and the music of its greatest stars — including Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, Sam & Dave and Eddie Floyd — is being discovered by a new generation of fans, thanks to "Talk to Me," the new film about the District's own Ralph "Petey" Greene.

Now PBS' "Great Performances" is getting on the bandwagon with the two-hour documentary "Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story," airing tonight at 10 on WETA-Channel 26 and at 9 on MPT-Channel 22.

Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, the film gets the standard PBS treatment: scores of archival footage that's laced throughout with interviews from principal players. There's Jim Stewart — a conservative white bank teller and country fiddle player who founded Stax in 1959 with his sister, Estelle Axton (the two named their company Stax by using the first syllables of their last names); songwriting partners David Porter and Isaac Hayes (the latter eventually would emerge from the shadows to become an Oscar-winning composer and recording star); Mavis Staples; innovative marketing manager Al Bell (who would later own Stax); and the multitalented Booker T. Jones, whose band, Booker T. & the MGs, would become the label's house band — in much the same manner as the Funk Brothers had done for Motown, Stax's main competitor.

"Motown was sweetness and sophistication, but Stax had the funk," singer Rufus Thomas says in the film.

Indeed. Within a few short years between 1960 and 1966, the Southern label would crank out such hits as "Soul Man," "Knock on Wood" and "Green Onions." Then along came Otis Redding. A big man with a big, emotive voice, he became the label's biggest star and its greatest tragedy. Just 26, he died in a horrific plane crash along with six members of his backup band, the Bar-Kays, on Dec. 10, 1967. The next month, his final recording, "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" (made three days before his death) became his first No. 1 single and the first to sell 1 million copies.

Although tragic, the recollection is one of the few emotional sparks in "Respect Yourself," which, for the most part, doesn't rise to the level of its rich source material. Wattstax, the label's groundbreaking 1972 festival to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Los Angeles riots, is given short shrift, and insight into the lives of Stax artists is nonexistent.

Yet, warts and all, "Respect Yourself" still rates a look just to see the incredible Mr. Redding in action — and imagine what could have been.

'Talent' tops Nielsens

The top five shows for the week of July 23 through July 29, their networks and viewerships, according to Nielsen Media Research, were: 1) "America's Got Talent," NBC, 9.8 million; 2) "The Singing Bee," NBC, 9.4 million; 3) "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," CBS, 9.3 million; 4) "So You Think You Can Dance" (Thursday), Fox, 9.1 million; and 5) "Hell's Kitchen," Fox, 8.8 million.

On tap tonight ...

If you're just hearing about the hot new FX series "Damages" after its first two episodes, never fear. MyNetworkTV has you covered. It's re-airing the first two segments of the Glenn Close legal drama (beginning with the pilot) at 8 tonight on My20 (Channel 20). The second installment follows at 9, and new shows will continue each Tuesday at 10 p.m. on FX.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse and Kelly Jane Torrance from staff, Web and wire reports.

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