Rob Bowman

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Rob Bowman has written about various kinds of rock and soul music, but is primarily known for his writing about Stax Records, on which he is the top authority. His deep interest in the giant soul label…
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Rob Bowman has written about various kinds of rock and soul music, but is primarily known for his writing about Stax Records, on which he is the top authority. His deep interest in the giant soul label has led him to write liner notes on several dozen reissues of Stax material, and also to write the Stax history, Soulsville, U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records, one of the most in-depth studies of a popular music label ever done. Born and raised in Toronto, Bowman has contributed to numerous publications, including Goldmine, Rejoice, the Journal of Country Music, and the All Music Guide. His interest in soul music, and Stax in particular, led him to work on his PhD in ethnomusicology at the University of Memphis. He began researching the history of Stax in 1985, and worked on it for over a decade. The project grew in size and scope the deeper Bowman got into it, and in order to give Stax the treatment he felt it deserved, he exhibited a commitment above and beyond what biographers of any sort usually give to their subject. This involved living in Memphis and conducting over 200 interviews that, according to the preface of Soulsville U.S.A., encompassed "virtually every artist, songwriter, session musician, engineer, and producer as well as all three owners and several of the key office personnel." Although his book contract called for only 90,000 words, he ended up writing 222,000 words. The resulting 400 pages of small print in Soulsville U.S.A. was on the level of top journalistic investigative reporting. It went into the business and social factors that powered, and eventually dismantled, Stax Records, as well as providing lots of detail and informed descriptive criticism of the music and artists.

As of the late '90s, Bowman was a professor of music at York University in Toronto, specializing in popular music and ethnomusicology. Although much of his liner note writing has been for Stax reissues (including the near book-length notes that accompany the three box set volumes of Stax/Volt singles), he has also written liner notes for reissues by non-Stax rock and gospel artists such as Lou Reed and the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble. His love of Stax also carried over to assistance in the making of a European film documentary, The Soul of Stax, and the production of radio specials on the company.