A tragically unsung (and just plain tragic) hero of Memphis soul, sax-swinging hipster Charles “Packy” Axton helped put Satellite Records — soon to be re-named Stax — on the map with “Last Night,” the million-selling 1961 debut by his band the Mar-Keys. But within just a few short years of that landmark instrumental, and despite his familial ties to the label (which was co-founded by Packy’s uncle Jim Stewart and his mother Estelle Axton), Packy’s hard-partying ways resulted in his exile from the Stax kingdom. Forced to take his horn elsewhere, Packy recorded a whole mess of sides under a variety of monikers, before finally drinking himself to death in 1974.
The first-ever collection of Packy’s post-Stax work, Late Late Party compiles the intoxicating mid-’60s instrumental tracks he waxed as the leader of the Packers, the Pac-Keys and the Martinis (the latter of whom included members of the Hi Rhythm Section), as well as a handful of vocal sides where he and co-conspirator Johnny Keyes backed local soulsters Stacy Lane and L.H. & the Memphis Sounds. While those vocal cuts are primarily of archival value, the instrumentals all sound as vibrant and over-served as if they’d been recorded, well, last night. “Hole In The Wall,” The Packers’ conga-driven 1966 hit, has long been popular with soul DJs for its rolling rhythms and good-time ambience; most of the other highlights here, including The Pac-Keys’ “Stone Fox” and the Martinis’ “Holiday Cheer” (which actually opens with the festive sounds of a bottle being opened and poured), are clearly cut from the same sweat- and bourbon-soaked cloth. The conviviality hits its peak on “Hip Pocket,” which contains what may be the world’s most soulful kazoo solo.
But for all of his liquored-up insouciance, Packy and his pals were deadly serious about laying down greasy chitlin’-circuit grooves, and Late Late Party is positively brimming with them. Most of the instrumentals here are as tasty as anything Packy’s old pals Booker T. & the MGs ever cut, but they’ve also got — to paraphrase James Mason’s immortal Thunderbird wine commercial — a distinctive flavor all their own. Serve ‘em up hot at your next party, late late or otherwise.