Charles “Packy” Axton, born on February 17, 1941, in Memphis, Tennessee, was an American saxophonist and bandleader known for his significant contributions to the Stax Records sound and the development of Memphis soul. As the son of Estelle Axton, co-founder of Stax Records, Packy was exposed to the music industry from an early age, which helped shape his career as a saxophonist.
Axton began playing the saxophone as a teenager and quickly became involved in the Memphis music scene. He joined the Royal Spades, a local band that featured several future Stax Records artists, including keyboardist Booker T. Jones and guitarist Steve Cropper. The group eventually evolved into the Mar-Keys, a Stax Records house band, which recorded the hit single “Last Night” in 1961. Axton’s soulful playing was a key ingredient in the song’s success, which reached No. 3 on the Billboard R&B chart and No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Despite the success of “Last Night,” Axton left the Mar-Keys to form his own group, the Packers. They scored a hit with the instrumental “Hole in the Wall,” which reached No. 5 on the R&B chart in 1965. However, the group disbanded shortly after, and Axton returned to Memphis, where he formed the Newborn & Axton Band with fellow saxophonist Harold “Doc” Newborn. The band recorded several tracks for the Stax subsidiary label, Hip, but they failed to achieve the same commercial success as Axton’s previous projects.
In 1965, Charles “Packy” Axton formed the Stax house band, the Pac-Keys, and began recording tracks for the label. Over the course of two years, the group released a number of singles, including “Late Late Party,” which showcased Axton’s distinctive sound and the infectious energy of the Stax house band. Although these recordings did not achieve widespread commercial success, they have since become highly sought after by collectors and fans of Memphis soul.
Despite his early successes and influence on the Memphis soul sound, Axton struggled with personal issues, including alcoholism, which ultimately derailed his music career. He passed away on January 20, 1974, at the age of 32, leaving behind a legacy of innovative saxophone playing and contributions to the development of Memphis soul music.
Charles “Packy” Axton’s impact on the Stax Records sound and the evolution of Memphis soul remains influential to this day. His unique playing style and dedication to his craft continue to inspire and influence musicians and fans alike, ensuring his place in the history of American music.
Last updated 3/18/2023.