A Go Go

Looking backward can be can a dangerous thing when it comes to music. Play too many great records from the past and you’ll never listen to new music again.

But there are times these days when a reissue of music recorded many years ago is so powerful that it forces a pause, and a reappraisal. Sure, the new Otis Redding Live at the Whisky A Go Go basically repeats the same set six times over. But what a set it is! And then there’s the setting. Rather than the usual places Redding worked, the famed Chitlin Circuit in the south, here he and his snappy, funky Memphis band were groovin’ on Sunset Strip at the Whisky A Go Go in front of what a year later at Monterey Pop he’d call the “Love Crowd.” It’s fascinating to hear how the crowd and headliner grow together. Not sure of what to make of this greasy, gritty force of nature with six horns onstage, the Hollywood cognoscenti, which on one night at least reportedly included Bob Dylan and Van Morrison among other musical luminaries, seem, if applause is any indication, to be mostly standing and watching.

Listening to these six sets, released here for the first time in complete form, what strikes you first is the amount of energy the man is pouring off the stage during each and every song. James Brown may have been the “hardest working man in show business” but Otis is out there churning as well. He’s literally panting, out of breath from his furious, all-in, vocal performances, throughout all six sides, barely able to get through his between song exhortations of “thank you very much ladies and gentlemens” and classic comments about getting paid, “We got to eat next week!” His voice, so firey and assured on the uptempo numbers, so strong and red-blooded on the ballads is one of a handful of genuine treasures in all of American music. If there ever was a sure-enough soul man, it was the Big O.

There are 19 songs here that have never been released before on either the 1982 Stax/Atlantic release, Good To Me: Recorded Live at the Whiskey A Go Go, Vol. 2 or the 2010 Live on Sunset Strip CD set that features 28 tracks on two discs. One of the most interesting parts about these performances is the fact that this is Otis with his band and not the Stax/Volt house band of incomparable musicians that played on his other live set, Live In Europe, recorded in 1967. While Donald “Duck” Dunn, Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper and Al Jackson Jr., the MG’s, were incomparable, the crew on this record, led by drummer Elbert Woodson, bassist Ralph Stewart, guitarist James Young and the six horns are fairly breathtaking in their own right, leaving it all on the stage (six times), and pivoting seamlessly, a speeding locomotive that turns on a dime if you will, between “Mr. Pitiful” and “Satisfaction” on the first and last sets of this package.

The final set from Sunday night is probably the most interesting of the six as it includes Redding, in high spirits jumping headfirst into a cover of The Beatles “Hard Day’s Night.” Some of the stage announcements by emcee Al “Brisco” Clark, are fairly priceless, like the one where he mentions you can have “a souvenir pit-cher” taken with the star, “have camera will travel.” Recorded by Wally Heider under the supervision of Nesuhi Ertegun, the sound here is very good for a live show taped in a small club 50 years ago. The sources for this set, according to my old friend Bill Bentley who co-produced it, were carefully preserved by the Stax folks despite the upheaval that label experienced in the 1970s.

dalethorn's picture

I have 4 songs by Otis Redding in my permanent playlist (I've been loving you too long, I've got dreams to remember, Pain in my heart, Try a little tenderness), which is well above my average of 2 songs per artist. What makes the difference with Otis Redding is the emotional power of these songs, and I play them far more often than just about anyone else.

Allen Fant's picture

One cannot go wrong with any Otis.