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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The History of Satellite/Stax Records
I read an electronic version of this book compliments of NetGalley. The opinions expressed here are mine alone.
From beginning to ending this book is the story of Stax Records. Stax was founded by a brother and sister, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, who were interested in music and wanted to promote the funky music that was being created in their home base of...
Published 15 months ago by G.I Gurdjieff

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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not a page turner
While the story of the Stax organization is well-known and fascinating, this book gets bogged down in too many details and thus gets rather boring at times. The writer maintains a rather flat tone that becomes tiring. I also felt that the long digressions into the Memphis garbage men strikes and other bits of the Civil Rights Movement could have been shorter and better...
Published 11 months ago by Billy


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29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The History of Satellite/Stax Records, November 13, 2013
This review is from: Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion (Hardcover)
I read an electronic version of this book compliments of NetGalley. The opinions expressed here are mine alone.
From beginning to ending this book is the story of Stax Records. Stax was founded by a brother and sister, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton, who were interested in music and wanted to promote the funky music that was being created in their home base of Memphis. Financed primarily by a second mortgage on Estelle's home, they worked on a shoe string budget that required day jobs to pay the bills and studio business was transacted in their spare time.
In its entirety this is an interesting story. These were two people with a dream, but not exactly positioned to run a business and have it become hugely successful. Even more improbable, Stewart and Axton were white and most of the people who worked for them and also comprised their talent base were black. While segregation was huge in the south, once inside Stax there was racial equality and an intoxicating sense that the music would bring this diverse group forward both professionally and personally. Unfortunately, Jim's relative lack of expertise as the business grew and Estelle's role of mother hen had them often at odds with one another. Eventually, Jim nudged Estelle out of the company that she co-founded and Jim took on an African American partner who took the company to national prominence. Eventually, Stax became a victim of its own success and crashed and burned only to be revived again for another generation.
Though not exactly heavy reading, I found this book consistently interesting as an equally interesting cast of characters came and went which included Carla Thomas, Booker T and the MG's, Issac Hayes, Sam and Dave, Otis Redding, Donald "Duck" Dunn, Steve Cropper, and the Staple Singers. I grew up on these people's music and had no idea how or if they were actually connected in some way. I also had no idea that initially cutting a record did not guarantee tangible wealth in the early days of Stax. The company's initial growth started out very slowly in the early years despite some bonafide hits. Clearly there was a huge learning curve as the brother/sister team tried to develop their business and searched for the talent to get to the top. This book provided me with a sense of how the record business worked and why promotion was so important in its overall growth.
There were funny stories about a group of these performers going to Europe to be swamped by fans and hanging out with the Beetles or Jim Stewart not picking up Aretha Franklin's contract when he had the opportunity to do so. No wonder he needed a savvy partner to recognize a great opportunity should it present itself again.
This book conveyed a lot of intimacy and made me feel like I knew these people personally. I'd turn a page and hit on how the song Green Onions got its name or how someone contributed a riff to a song that changed it completely. In viewing Stax and its liberal atmosphere where there really was no racial discord, it foreshadowed changes in american society that would occur in the years to come.
Overall, the family drama and the collaborative efforts to bring soul and funk to a greater audience made for a great story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stacks and stacks of hits !, December 14, 2013
Memphis, in the 1950s, 60s and 70s was segregated, and many think that it still is today." "Everything came down to race....Being treated like an equal human being...was really a phenomenon....The spirit that came from Jim and his sister Estelle Axton allowed all of us, black and white, to . . . come into the doors of Stax, where you had freedom, you had harmony, you had people working together." Al Bell recalled in an interview, reported in Robert Gordon's book.
Gordon is obviously enamored with his hometown, but does not shy from describing the discordant race relations and the dystopia of segregation that prevailed; his main subject is music; and what great music it was and still is.
The book gets its name from the title of a song by the Staple Singers,( Mavis on vocals and Pops on guitar), one of many great R & B artists in the talent stable of Stax Records.

The record company was started in 1957, by bank employee and part-time country fiddle player, James Stewart, and his older sister Estelle Axton. Initially they began their enterprise in Estelle's garage, equipped with a mono tape recorder, and named the company Satellite Records. Two years later, Estelle mortgaged her home so that they could rent the former Capitol Theater in a black (not yet called African-American then) neighborhood. They named the studio Stax (Stewart/Axton) and promoted an open-door attitude. This attracted walk-ins, many that would become future stars, such as 16 year old Carla Thomas and her father Rufus; they recorded some of the studio's original big hits.
A few early successes with black musicians and an alliance with DJ/singer Rufus Thomas led Stax to focus on black music, which grew into the sound we that now call soul. Stewart ran the studio; Axton managed the connected Satellite Records Shop, where she conducted market research to boost Stax's sales. She allowed customers to listen to music in the shop for hours "That's the first place I heard Ray Charles, the first place I heard John Coltrane," one of the neighborhood high school student remembered. "I listened to hundreds of records, for hours."
That student was Booker T. Jones, who was to lead Stax's house band and the author of their hit "Green Onions". Booker T. and the MGs (Steve Cropper and Donald"Duck"Dunn, the white classmates of Axton's son and Al Jackson, virtuoso black drummer) were the back-up band for many of the hits produced by Stax.

The book is a treasure trove of stories and anecdotes about many artists, how they were discovered (Otis Redding came in as chauffeur for guitarist Johnny Jenkins...who? and stayed on to dazzle the band with his rendition of "These Arms of Mine"), their careers, successes and tragedies; but it is mostly about the complicated story of Stax Records, from its modest genesis and its meteoric rise to its vertiginous descent into bankruptcy, due to mismanagement, greed and corruption.

Stax's first phase through the early 60s was managed by Jim and Estelle, but it was the addition of disc-jockey-promo-man extraordinaire, Al Bell, "six-feet-four bundle of joy, two hundred and twelve pounds of Miss Bell's baby boy. Soft as medicated cotton and rich as double-X cream. The women's pet, the men's threat and the playboy's pride and joy." that turned Stax into a successful business. In addition to his business talent, Bell, as a black man, Gordon writes, "would enhance the administration's credibility among the [mostly black] employees."
"We weren't a professional company before Al," says Booker T. Jones. "We didn't have big business going on. We had big music going on." They certainly had that with Otis Redding, Issac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Carla Thomas, Sam & Dave and Wilson Pickett to name a few.

National success ushered the next phase when rival companies and mega record enterprises began poaching many of the artists of Stax records. Atlantic Records handled the distribution of Carla Thomas and other artists' records, and eventually took them over and owned all the copyright to the songs. "First was the issue of authorship and its rewards...The money from a hit goes to the songwriters." but in the early days at Stax no one cared too much to protect their rights, until it was too late.

Poor business decisions and missed opportunities, such as not signing Aretha Franklin or Gladys Knight and competition for the same talent from Motown et al. ushered in the third and final phase in 1967.
Its major international star, Otis Redding and several members of the rising band The Bar-Kays died in a plane crash. The following year, a sniper assassinated the Reverend Martin Luther King at the Lorraine hotel that was a favorite hangout for the Stax musicians and writers. This tragedy put a major damper on their creativity for months.
Stax did not back-up or promote Issac Hayes "Shaft" music, in 1971. He ended up being the first black artist to receive a Oscar for a movie theme song and a Grammy in 1972.
Estelle was pushed out of the business; her brother, Jim made disastrous business deals with the unscrupulous sharks at Atlantic Records that ended up owning all the rights to the original songs of Stax, without paying a cent. Al Bell, vice president of marketing, bought out Stewart in 1972 taking full possession of Stax and began an era of rapid growth, big money, greed, extravagant spending and corruption. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, the semblance of racial unity that existed at Stax, and in Memphis, faded.
"Resentment, hostility and fear were roiling among Memphis business elite...They [Stax management] were afraid someone would hide drugs in Stax, then try to bust them." Al Bell felt that guns were "an American institution" used mainly "by the white majority" to maintain and consolidate power. He relates that he felt trapped, and forced to defend himself and his employees.
On top of these problems, new considerations suddenly influenced creative decisions. Bell told Gordon, "We're talking about major Wall Street corporations and how their decisions and their thinking impacted with us and interfered, and in some instances, prohibited us" from producing certain music.
Bell hired the brutal Johnny Baylor to manage protection and as distribution manager. Baylor's tactics were often illicit and even felonious; he developed new clients with a handshake, a bribe, a fist or a gun. It was the time when "payola" was common. Baylor was eventually arrested.

Stax grew to have the fifth-highest revenue of any black-owned business in the nation in 1973. Despite this, the company "didn't have a real, structured management system," writes Gordon. Two years later, the white-owned Union Planters National Bank, Stax main financial backer, framed Stax management with fraud charges and Al Bell went to trial; he was acquitted but Stax was bankrupt and finished.

The book is based on extensive research, primary sources and personal interviews that were originally conducted for the 2007 PBS documentary by the same name. It is an easy read full of interesting characters and insider information about "Soulsville, U.S.A." and an important era in genuine American music. If you are a fan of R&B music and curious about its provenance and history, this book is for you. I found it to be better than Rob Bowman's "Soulsville, U.S.A." that is simply a series of interviews collected in a book, and more informative than the segment in Peter Guralnick's "Sweet Soul Music".

In 1995, during a visit to Memphis I went looking for "Soulsville, USA" on McLemore street, only to find that nothing was there. I was told by a local that"the Stax/Capitol building had been bought for one dollar by a church group in the late 80s and torn down to eradicate the source of devil-music."
In the early 21st century a museum of American soul music was erected on the site, it included a recreation center and a school for the arts, the Stax Music Academy, for local talented youngsters.

I wrote this review while listening to music from "Stax 50: A 50th Anniversary Celebration (9 CDs).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Soul of America and the Sound of Memphis, March 23, 2014
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This review is from: Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion (Hardcover)
In the early Sixties, the world was primed for a musical explosion heretofore unthinkable, and little ole Stax Records of Memphis, Tennessee, was just one of the record companies that put itself on the map with a distinctive sound. With artists like Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, and Booker T. and the MGs, the company grew. Adversity struck, however, but the company rebounded in the early Seventies. It was undone by elements of hubris on its part (and racism on the part of the surrounding white Memphis establishment), but its legacy is unassailable. Robert Gorden, a native Memphian, brings that whole saga to life with "Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion."

An integrated company at a time when much of the music business was dominated by whites (as indeed was most of Memphis, its home base), Stax came into being through the efforts of white brother and sister Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton in the late Fifties. Sam Phillips was having success with Sun Records across town (with a roster that included at one time or another Johnny Casg, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins), and former fiddler-turned-banker Jim Stewart wanted to get back into music and make a profit. He began with what he knew (country music), but the neighborhood he found himself in was predominantly black and full of talented young men and women who came through his front door seeking the opportunity to escape the poverty and misery that was many an African-American's plight in the South. And walk through the door they did, from Booker T. Jones (whose integrated band included Duck Dunn and Steve Cropper, Stax Records stalwarts) to Otis Redding (who first came to Jim's attention as the valet for another artist from Georgia seeking to record at their studio). Rufus Thomas and his daughter Carla found success there, as did Luther Ingram, songwriter-turned-artist Isaac Hayes, and the Bar-Keys, whose "Soulfinger" is just one of the anthems of the era. Through a partnership with Atlantic Records, Stax got to record Sam and Dave. Times were good for the label, until December 1967.

When Otis Redding's plane went down (killing him and four of the original six Bar-Keys), Stax Records suffered a devestating loss. They bounced back, however, thanks to the efforts of Al Bell, a disc jockey who had worked with Dr. King in Atlanta and was now one of the first black record executives in the country, sharing a desk with Jim Stewart as head of A&R and de facto vice president of the company. With Redding gone (and with the ownership of Stax masters under the control of Atlantic, which terminated its deal with the company in 1968), the label needed new talent fast, and for that they turned to Hayes. Thanks to "Hot Buttered Soul" and the soundtrack for the movie "Shaft," Stax Records thrived, but Stewart retired from the business in the early Seventies (his sister "Miz Axton" had been bought out years earlier) and the white establishment in Memphis didn't look too kindly upon the fact that Stax was now being run by a black man like Al Bell. After some financial misdeeds were brought to light, the law had the leverage to force Stax into bankruptcy, ending an era of music and interracial interaction unique to the Jim Crow era.

Gordon, a masterful writer when it comes to Memphis music (his "It Came From Memphis" is a must-read), highlights the story of Stax and also the story of Memphis during this era, when Stax stood out as a place where black and white were equal, could cooperate and collaberate with no trace of hostility. He showcases not just the record company but the town it came of age in, and how race relations in Memphis were crucial to the evolution of Stax's soul-powered sound (the mutual respect between white and black musicians did a lot to offset the natural suspicions each harbored in a town where Martin Luther King could be gunned down on the balcony of his hotel). The story of Stax isn't the "sound of young America," as its most obvious rival Motown attested on its albums. It's the soul of America, and how that soul fought to be heard when everyone else tried to ignore it or silence it.

"Respect Yourself" is a fantastic look at a company that had a good run but came to an end all too soon (there is a Stax Records now, and a musuem where the original building stood). Stax Records was as important to the civil rights movement as it was to the pop-music explosion of the Sixties and Seventies, and Robert Gordon reflects that and highlights it. Every fan of classic soul should own a copy of this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long overdue history of an iconic American record company., January 6, 2014
This review is from: Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion (Hardcover)
"Artist after artist, song after song, Stax gave voice to the hearts and minds of a people too long silenced. And with that voice, Stax brought power to its artists and also to its audience. Stax had become the song of a nation." - page 341

As a collector of popular music for nearly a half century I was pretty familiar with the story of how Stax records was founded in Memphis, Tennessee in the late 1950's by a most unlikely duo. Jim Stewart was a fiddle player in a country swing band who decided to start a record company. His sister Estelle was so taken with the idea that she convinced her husband to mortgage their home in order to help the company that would become Stax get off the ground. What was really kind of bizarre was that Jim Stewart wanted to record black artists. Conventional wisdom said that the odds were stacked against them. But Jim Stewart and his fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants record company proved the skeptics wrong. Over the next two decades Stax would become a major force in American popular music. Robert Gordon has been writing about Memphis music and history for more than three decades. His latest effort "Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion" is a meticulously researched and downright entertaining book. It turns out that there was a whole lot about the history of Stax that I was unaware of. I simply could not put his one down.

In "Respect Yourself" you will learn about all of the major players at Stax, from the management to the extremely talented stable of house musicians to the major stars like Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Carla Thomas and The Staple Singers to name but a few. In addition, Gordon offers up the story behind the story on so many of the label's major hits including "Gee Whiz", "Green Onions", "Who's Makin' Love?", "Theme from `Shaft" and "I'll Take You There". The author also recalls the heartbreaking plane crash that claimed the lives of four members of The Bar-Kays and the label's biggest star Otis Redding on a frigid night in Wisconsin in late 1967. Many thought that Stax would never recover. Then you will meet Al Bell who would eventually become a co-owner of Stax. As you will discover, this was the man who was largely responsible for the spectacular rise and ultimate demise of the company. Under the leadership of Al Bell Stax would enter into a number of questionable deals with other labels in an effort to expand into new markets and to increase distribution. Robert Gordon also spends considerable time profiling other influential people at the label such as Steve Cropper, Johnnie Baylor, David Porter and Booker T. Jones. What Gordon provides for his readers is a comprehensive and no holds barred history of the label. He pulls no punches and shows a willingness to call `em as he sees `em. What would ultimately become of Stax was truly an American tragedy.

As I indicated earlier I could not put "Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion" down. This is at once a well-written, extremely informative and highly entertaining book that would be a perfect choice for music enthusiasts, history buffs and general readers alike. History comes alive in this book and "Respect Yourself" deserves a place in every library in America. Very highly recommended!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Riding the soul train, January 4, 2014
This review is from: Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion (Hardcover)
Robert Gordon, a native of Memphis, Tennessee and an expert of the local music scene, gives us a good overview of the rise and demise of Stax Records, the legendary producer of R&B and Soul music, which met its demise in bankruptcy court at the end of 1975. The book covers the founding of the label and gives us a view of the many relationships that were formed between Stax and Altantic, Detusche Grammonphon and Columbia and the pitfalls that occurred by Stax's officers not reading the fine print on contracts. Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Paxton formed the label to attract the R&B music that was slowly growing on him and early on signed such artists as the Mar-Keys, Carla Thomas and Booker T. and MGs which featured such legendary artists as Donald "Duck" Dunn and Steve Cropper who was with the Mar-Keys as well.

The book explains well the transititon from the early years of the label to the explosion of Soul music that was fostered by one of Mr. Stewart's hires, Al Bell who took Stax to legendary status with such groups as the Staple Singers, the Bar-Kays and artists such as Isaac Hayes and Otis Redding whose tragic demise occured just as his career started to soar.

After the riots and cultural upheaval of the late 1960s, changes in the Memphis neigborhood where Stax's headquaters and studios were located signaled the end of the open-door policy of Stax where anyone could come off the street to record. Increasing violence and other security concerns led to posting guards around the studio. As the company increased in size, influence and revenue, it made decisions that would spell the end for it. Unwise market decisions and the hesitancy to layoff workers to reduce overhead increased the strain on the bottom line. Bills were left unpaid, checks bounced and artists such as Hayes bolted for other labels to escape the sinking ship. In the end, the business ended with the parceling out of its assets which included the master tapes, the property of the comapny and various personal effects of Mr. Stewart who pleged his belongings to the bank in a futile hope to save Stax.

The book is a good read and is a good selection for those who not only want to know about Memphis-based R&B musis, but also to learn about how not to run a business when it is successful. The book is 390 pages long with a brilliantly structured end note section with a good bibliography. Four stars.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Epic Tale of Rise and Fall, February 7, 2014
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This review is from: Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion (Hardcover)
Gordon tells the remarkable story of the rise and fall of the venerable Stax label in a way that one suspects that only a Memphian like him can. From a tiny studio fronted by a record store to the fifth largest black-owned business in America, Stax produced a grittier, more "real" alternative to the pop-oriented African American music coming from Motown in the Sixties and early Seventies -- a veritable "soul explosion," as Gordon puts it. His tale is based on interviews with the label's owners, brother and sister Jim Stewart and Estelle "Miz Axton" Axton, its studio musicians (The MGs), producers, and administrative staff, and most of its star artists, such as Carla and Rufus Thomas, Isaac Hayes, William Bell, and Mavis Staples. The singer who put Stax squarely in the public's consciousness was, of course, Otis Redding, to whom devotes many touching, informative, and even funny pages.

Gordon argues that Stax essentially grew faster than its leaders, namely Al Bell, could manage. Bell's vision of making Stax a major multimedia force drove the company to it heights, but his lack of control over the millions Stax made sank the enterprise even more quickly than it grew. Less than a decade after Redding's landmark performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, Stax had issued its last single and fell into bankruptcy, leaving in its wake the broken lives of dozens of employees as well as one hell of a musical legacy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brought back old memories, February 13, 2014
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Well written,very informative.I am living again my teen years and my college days by reading this book. Highly recommended for anyonewho is a fan "old soul music". Well worth the read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books about music, a record label and a city..., January 2, 2014
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This review is from: Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion (Hardcover)
Robert Gordon has outdone himself again. His "It Came From Memphis", is a wonderful chronicle of that city's pop/soul music heritage. In "Respect Yourself" he narrows his focus to the history of Stax Records, one of America's great record labels. But narrowing the focus to one label opens up the book to virtually the post '50s history of Memphis and the history of some of the greatest music ever recorded in America. Stax, a small label founded by two white siblings, a sister and a brother, was located in a small studio and office building in the heart of Memphis. After creating a catalog of wonderful music they entered into a near-disasterous agreement with Atlantic Records, then righted themselves and created another catalog of tremendous soul music. The pressures of success led to further complications,from without and from within, until the whole company imploded. This is a book which ties the history of soul music with the civil rights movement, the death of the small independent music distributors, the rise of the corporate giants, the twisted world of radio promotion and the hubris of many in charge. Great anecdotes and stories about Otis Redding,Isaac Hayes, The Staples Singers, Booker T and the MGs, Eddie Floyd, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Wattstax, Rufus Thomas and many many others. Highest recommendation!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Respect Yourself does not disappoint., July 25, 2014
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J Martin Jellinek (Memphis, TN United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion (Hardcover)
Robert Gordon has written a number of books about his hometown of Memphis and the music that are both very readable and informative. Respect Yourself does not disappoint. In this book, Gordon delves into the genesis and history of Stax music, a company with the heart and soul that competed with the glitz of Motown, building on the strength of the African American music in the Jim Crow era in America while embodying the diversity that was anathema in 1960's Memphis. The fact that the musicians could play together making unique music but not go out for coffee together remains a chilling reminder of the segregation that still infests society today. Gordon skillfully blends together the genesis of the music with the social and political realities of the time helps illuminate the miracle that was Stax. This book is fascinating on many different fronts, and I highly recommend it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I love this book. One of the best books I've ever read about R & B music., January 29, 2015
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This review is from: Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion (Hardcover)
This is a great book. Robert Gordon gives you a step by step history of the rise and fall of Stax Records. And it's written from interviews and comments of all the people that were actually there. I also love the way he weaves the story of the racial climate in Memphis during that time as it's important to the story. I grew up listening to Stax music and was greatly influenced by the musicians and artists there. This book is a real treasure trove of inside facts and stories about all of that and I really dug it......
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Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion
Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion by Robert Gordon (Hardcover - November 12, 2013)
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