By David John Smith
Notodden is unique in many ways. It is birthplace of the 2nd Industrial Revolution. It is headquarters of the Blues in Europe. It home to the European Blues Center and the Notodden Blues Festival. And it is home to the Juke Joint – the music studio with roots in the renowned Stax Studio in Memphis, the city that gave the world Rock & Roll, Blues and Soul.
The Juke Joint Studio is the original vintage analogue studio located at the Bok & Blueshuset by the Heddal Lake in Notodden. Most of the equipment in the Juke Joint comes from the legendary Stax Studio including microphones, tubes, amplifiers – and most notably, the Audiotronics 501 Soundboard, creating the same analogue magic that Stax Studio recorded in the 60s and 70s.
The Juke Joint Studio is located in the Book & Blues House (Bøk og blueshuset) in Notodden.
Photo credit B.O Holmberg.
Legendary Stax Studio
It was in Memphis in the late 1950s that a bank clerk by profession, Jim Stevens, created Satellite Records, a label that featured local rockabilly and country acts. The next year, In 1959, he and his sister Estelle Axton become business partners. This led the way in 1960 for the two of them to purchase the old Capitol Theatre in a poor section of Memphis on 926 East McLemore Avenue.
With an investment of 150 dollars and a lot of hard work, they transformed the dilapidated theatre into a music studio. In 1961, they changed the name of the studio from Satellite to Stax, and began to create what would be the heart of soul in the south.
The original Stax Studio location can still be visited in Memphis (photo credit Victor Chapa)
Black and White
In the Deep South at that time, there was a division of black and white – segregation was the law of the land – but Stax dared to be revolutionary in this time of racial division and unrest.
Through the creative blend of black (organist Booker T. Jones and drummer Al Jackson) and white (guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn) musicians, the Stax Sound was created. Led by the best house band anywhere, over the next 15 years Stax charted over 175 hit songs on Billboard's Hot 100 as well as a mind-boggling 250 hits on the Rhythm and Blues charts.
Over the years, artists such as Otis Redding and dozens of other artists that included Elvis Presley, The Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, Wilson Pickett, Albert King and perhaps the most famous house band ever – Booker T and the MGs, recorded hit after hit here at Stax.
A Plane Crash and Bankruptcy
They say that the turning point of Stax Records came to a literal crash on December 10, 1967 when their biggest star Otis Redding´s plane went down in Lake Monona, Wisconsin. Though his song Sitting on the Dock of the Bay went to number 1 the following year for four weeks, becoming one of the biggest songs of the year, something had changed.
Although the label and studio would see dozens of hits during the next seven years following the death of Otis Redding, the Stax Studio went bankrupt in 1976 with its doors closing forever in 1977.
The studio that had seen so much success over so many years was sold to a church for just 10 dollars.
They say that the fate of Stax was sealed when superstar Otis Redding was killed in a plane crash. He had just recorded "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay", which went on to top the US Charts for 5 weeks.
The Journey Begins
Over the next years, the Audiotronics 501 soundboard and studio equipment would begin a journey that would take it first to the grunge scene in Washington in the early 1990's and then finally to the mountain town of Notodden in Norway.
Purchased by Steve Wold, who would later become famous as `Seasick Steve´, the Audiotronics 501 became the heart of Wold´s Moon Music, established in Olympia, Washington. Olympia is a neighboring town of Seattle, where grunge music had begun in the early 1990´s. During its time in Olympia, the studio was used for many acclaimed Indie-recordings in the late 90′s by bands that included Modest Mouse, 764 Her, Fitz of Depression and the Murder City Devils.
In 2001, Steve Wold decided to move to Norway in 2001 with his Norwegian-born wife, packing the Audiotronics 501 and studio equipment in a container and shipping it across the Atlantic. By 2001, the studio has found its home in Notodden, taking its name as the Juke Joint Studio.
The term Juke joint is by definition an informal establishment traditionally found at rural crossroads in the US south featuring music, dancing, gambling, and drinking. In the post-Civil War south with its segregation and racial tension, juke joints were a place where plantation workers and sharecroppers could relax and socialize after their long hard days – and make music.
Stax Lives On in Notodden
Though Steve Wold left Notodden in 2003 to gain international fame as Seasick Steve, the Juke Joint Studio has remained, and drawn many blues and rock celebrities to record their music in Notodden, with several albums have garnered national and international awards.
Seasick Steve, pictured here just a few years after leaving Notodden forever (photo credit Andrew Braithwaite)
The Notodden Juke Joint has now become a home to music in the region. Just as in the old Stax Studio in Memphis, in Notodden´s Juke Joint you will find a combination of acoustic tiles and curtains that muffle the echo of the large studio in a way that creates an analogue sound that is unique.
Even today, in the heart of the Juke Joint studio you can still find the legendary Audiotronics 501 soundboard with the engraved the words "This is a property of STAX – Memphis".
Be sure to visit the Juke Joint in Notodden, Norway to see a piece of history – and make great music.