Otis Redding – Live at the Whisky A Go-Go, The Complete Recordings

Title: Live at the Whisky A Go-Go, The Complete Recordings

Artist: Otis Redding

Label: Volt/Concord

Formats: CD, digital, LP (excerpts, limited edition)

Release date: October 21, 2016

In this new 6-disc set, Concord Records, the current owner of the Stax label and catalog, puts out for public consumption every inch of tape rolled during Otis Redding’s 3-day/3-night stand at Los Angeles’s Whisky A Go-Go club on April 8-10, 1966. The completist approach is for better or worse, especially since “the best” material from these sets was released in 1968 as In Person at the Whisky A Go Go (Atco), and then more material was released in 1982 (Atlantic LP) and 1993 (Fantasy/Stax CD with bonus tracks) as Good To Me.

In keeping with the year-end holiday spirit, let’s start with the “for better” aspects of this set. The number one good new feature is the improved sound quality. Engineer Seth Presant remixed the original 4-track tapes and the result is a near-clear window into what Otis and his 9-man band sounded like on that stage. The new reissue also features some snazzy packaging; including liner notes on the back of a poster-sized reproduction of the box set cover art. Liner notes include essays by reissue co-producer Bill Bentley and Los Angeles arts and culture writer Lynell George.

The CDs are broken up mostly into individual live sets, the exception being the long second set from Friday, April 8, 1966 being spread over the end of disc 1 and all of disc 2. Disc 3 contains the longer first set from Saturday, April 9, while disc 4 contains the shorter second and third sets from that night. Disc 5 and disc 6 are, respectively, the two sets from Sunday, April 10. Several songs are heard in nearly every set. Indeed, buyer beware—there are many repeat performances of key tunes in the Otis Redding songbook, so variety is not the strong suit in this album.

Which brings us to the “for worse” aspects of this reissue. The big problem with these performances is, the band just didn’t hit its mark most of the time. The horns were often out of tune and rhythm was not tight enough for album-quality takes (which is probably why a few tunes were repeated over and over). The liner notes mention the club’s audience being mainly white kids, and Otis Redding was just beginning to have crossover success at that point in his career, so there was probably a bit of an energy gap between performer and audience. For whatever reason, the overall performances ebb and flow through each set, although it’s clear that Redding was working hard to get his music across and leave L.A. with a viable live album in the can.

After listening to all the Whisky A Go-Go shows, I’m not convinced that Redding would have wanted the complete package released. The performances just weren’t good and consistent enough, which is likely why a lot of editing was employed to get the first two releases. And, even in the edited form, these performances pale in comparison to Redding’s tear-down-the-house triumph at the Monterey Pop Festival a year and two months later. It’s worth noting that Redding played Monterrey backed by the super-tight Stax house band, Booker T. and the MG’s (see the film “Monterey Pop” to witness the incendiary results). Otis Redding died in a plane crash, at age 26, six months after Monterey.

Reviewed by Tom Fine

New Soul Music Box Sets and Limited Editions

the one derful collection halo records

Title: The One-Derful! Collection: Halo Records

Artists: Various

Label: Secret Stash

Formats: CD, 2-LP set

Release date: October 2015


Last December we wrote about on the new Secret Stash series devoted to Chicago’s One-derful! label group, which includes Mar-V-Lus (reviewed in February), M-Pac!, Halo, Midas, and Toddlin’ Town. This series marks the first in-depth study of one of Chicago’s most prominent African-American run labels, operated by George and Ernie Leaner from 1962- 1971.

Finally, after a long delay, the highly anticipated fourth installment of the One-derful! Collection has been released, which focuses on the gospel imprint Halo. Featuring The Gospel Ambassadors, Salem Travelers, the Gospel Souls, Lucy Rodgers, The Flying Clouds of Joy, and the Redemption Harmonizers, among others, this set includes nine never-before-released tracks. This is some of the finest, rarest gospel soul ever shouted from the South Side of Chicago!


syl johnson complete twinight singles

Title: Complete Twinight Singles

Artist: Syl Johnson

Label: Numero

Formats: 2-LP set, Digital (FLAC, MP3)

Release date: October 30, 2015



Veteran Chicago blues and soul singer Syl Johnson (father of R&B singer Syleena Johnson) began recording for Twinight Records of Chicago in the mid-1960s. Thanks to his scorching 1969 rendition of the still relevant “Is It Because I’m Black” (written in response to the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) and his frequently sampled song “Different Strokes” (by Kanye West and Jay-Z, among others), Johnson managed to escape the category of “forgotten soul singer” and is now receiving his long overdue recognition. Though most if not all of his songs have been reissued numerous times, this beautifully produced double LP set from Numero includes 29 tracks with all of Johnson’s Twinight singles. In addition to the previously mentioned songs, highlights include the socially conscious “Concrete Reservation” and the ‘60s anthems “Come On Sock It to Me” and “Ode to Soul Man.” The double gatefold album includes track-by-track liner notes by Bill Dahl and Ken Shipley. Vinyl enthusiasts won’t get tired of spinning these discs!


aretha franklin atlantic albums collection

Title: The Atlantic Albums Collection

Artist: Aretha Franklin

Label: Rhino / Atlantic

Format: 19 CD Box set

Release date: October 30, 2015



Many of you will have the majority of Aretha’s Atlantic albums already, but if not, you might consider this new box set featuring 19 discs, including both studio and live recordings, enclosed in vinyl replica card sleeves and packaged in a clamshell box. Regrettably, even at 19 albums, it’s not quite a complete collection of her Atlantic output since five of her post-1974 albums are not included due to rights issues: With Everything I Feel In Me (1974), You (1975), Sweet Passion (1977), Almighty Fire (1978) and La Diva (1979). The set does, however, include more recent compilations including Amazing Grace: The Complete Recordings (1999), Rare & Unreleased Recordings from the Golden Reign of the Queen of Soul (2007), and Oh Me Oh My: Aretha Live in Philly 1972 (2007). There’s no added bonus material or booklet, but at approximately $5 per disc this set is a great buy.

otis redding soul manifesto

Title: Soul Manifesto 1964-1970

Artist: Otis Redding

Label: Rhino

Format: 12 CD Box set, MP3

Release date: October 30, 2015



As with the Aretha Franklin box set, Otis Redding: Soul Manifesto is a repackaging of Redding’s six studio albums plus Live in Europe, all released prior to his death in a plane crash on December 10, 1967. The remaining five CDs in this compilation include the first posthumous release, The Dock Of The Bay from February 1968—assembled at Stax primarily from previously released singles and a few unissued recordings; The Immortal Otis Redding from June 1968 which features songs recorded by Redding during his final sessions; the live album In Person At the Whisky A Go Go recorded in April 1966 and released in 1968; and the 1969 and 1970 releases Love Man and Tell The Truth featuring more unreleased tracks recorded at Stax and backed by Booker T & the MGs. The discs are issued in vinyl replica card sleeves with no added bonus material.

As an added note, Redding’s third studio album, Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul, considered to be one of the greatest albums of all time, marked its 50th anniversary on September 15, 2015. In celebration, Rhino is also reissuing its two-CD Collector’s Edition which includes stereo and mono versions of the original album, plus previously unreleased alternate mixes, as well as selections from Redding’s live albums.


the early motown eps

Title: The Early Motown EPs

Artist: Various

Label: Universal

Format: 7-LP Box set

Release date: December 4, 2015



Vinyl collectors can look forward to this new limited edition, individually numbered box set from Universal that compiles 28 rare recordings from early Motown labels: London American, Stateside and Tamla Motown. These discs replicate seven of the original four-track EPs, including five Motown artist mini-compilations plus one EP each devoted to Stevie Wonder and The Miracles. A download card is included with your purchase.

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Apollo Saturday Night

Title: Apollo Saturday Night

Artists: Various

Label: Collectors’ Choice Music

Catalog No.:  CCM-998

Release Date: March 10, 2009

As entertainment, one show at the Apollo is about the equivalent of an entire evening of TV watching, a dozen hours of radio, plus four double features at the movies all rolled into one — Bob Altschuler, from the original LP liner notes.

There have been a number of ‘Live at the Apollo’ albums reissued in recent years, but most focus on concerts by a single artist, such as James Brown.  The beauty of Apollo Saturday Night is the variety of talent captured onstage in a single performance from November 16, 1963.  The artists were drawn primarily from the stable of Atlantic and Stax Records (Atlantic had a distribution arrangement with Stax at the time)—Ben E. King, The Coasters, Doris Troy, Rufus Thomas, Otis Redding, and The Falcons—and backed by the King Curtis Orchestra. The album captures an important period in African American music, when elements of rhythm and blues, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll were frequently intermingled, and the pop-soul of Motown and southern soul of Stax were just on the verge of breaking loose and taking over the charts.  The concert also illustrates the performance practices and reception of the artists when playing to an almost exclusively African American audience.

The master-of-ceremonies, King Coleman, kicks off the show which opens with the Falcons performing their 1962 chart topping Wilson Pickett penned hit “I Found a Love,” followed by “Alabama Bound.” Apparently Pickett had already left the group by the time this concert was recorded (according to the liner notes), and the lead is sung by the Falcon’s founder, Eddie Floyd (the Falcons disbanded shortly after this concert, and the name was taken over by the Fabulous Playboys).

Next up is a young Otis Redding, one of the big headliners of the night, who draws screams from the ladies in the audience over his renditions of “These Arms of Mine” and “Pain in My Heart,” his first two major hits released just months prior to the concert.

Redding is followed by Doris Troy, best known for “Just One Look” which debuted that summer, but for some reason is passed over in favor of a rousing rendition of “Say Yeah” and an up-tempo jazz version of “Misty.” The venerable Rufus Thomas performs his signature song, “Walking the Dog,” which had just charted at #5 a month prior to the concert.   The Coasters, whose popularity had peaked in the late ‘50s with their seminal early rock ‘n roll hits “Young Blood” and “Poison Ivy” (which had recently been covered by the Beatles (1962) and the Rolling Stones (1963), respectively), contribute “Speedo’s Back in Town” and “T’Ain’t Nothin’ to Me,” which would be released the following year on their last charting single.

The other big headliner of the night was Ben E. King, who kicks off his set with the lesser known “Groovin'” (from the 1962 album Ben E. King Sings for Soulful Lovers), followed by “Don’t Play that Song, ” which hit #2 on the charts the previous year.  And of course he closes with his iconic #1 hit from 1961, “Stand By Me.” The concert concludes with a rousing group performance of Ray Charles’s “What’d I Say,” which must have brought down the house, but unfortunately the recording fades out before the applause.

The original Apollo Saturday Night LP was released by Atco (a subsidiary of Atlantic)  in 1964 and didn’t garner much attention, and a previously released budget label CD is no longer available. Thanks to Collector’s Choice, this remastered edition once again allows us to witness the excitement of a Saturday night at Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Stax Does the Beatles

Title: Stax Does the Beatles
Artists: Various
Label: Stax/Concord
Catalog No.: STXCD-30390
Date: 2008

Stax Does the Beatles is something of a companion CD to Stax Does Motown, which was released at the same time (and is also reviewed in this issue). The compilation aptly illustrates how the musical genres of rock and soul have drawn inspiration from one another, while at the same time bridging the racial divide that existed in music up until that time. British groups such as the Rolling Stones were heavily influenced by the blues, especially the electronic Chicago blues of Muddy Waters, but also did cover versions of Southern soul hits, such as Wilson Pickett’s “If You Need Me.” It was only a matter of time before inspiration began to flow in the opposite direction. By the late 1960s, Motown and Stax artists were covering a variety of songs made popular during the British Invasion, one of the most notable being Otis Redding’s version of Mick Jagger’s “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (check out his incredible live performance on the recent DVD release Stax/Volt Revue Live in Norway).

This new compilation includes a small sampling of “soulful covers” of some of the Beatles’ hit songs that were reworked in the Stax studios. The tracks include an assortment of vocal and instrumental performances. Booker T. & The MGs, the Stax house band led by keyboardist Booker T. Jones, perform “Got To Get You Into My Life” (previously unreleased), “Eleanor Rigby” (released on Soul Limbo in 1968), “Michelle” and “Lady Madonna” (the latter two originally released on the 1969 album The Booker T. Set). Steve Cropper, the MGs famed guitarist, also contributes an instrumental version of “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Another Stax house band, the Mar-Keys, perform their 1971 cover of “Let It Be,” while the Bar-Kays are featured on “Yesterday” and “Hey Jude” (these tracks appear to have been recorded after the 1967 plane crash that claimed the lives of Otis Redding and most of the original members of the Bar-Kays).

All of the above adds up to a CD that is largely instrumental (9 of the 15 tracks), which though enjoyable, was something of a disappointment. In terms of vocal covers, the highlight of the CD is without a doubt the opening track, “Daytripper,” a previously unreleased studio version performed by the late, great Otis Redding. David Porter and Isaac Hayes, who teamed up to write many hit songs for Stax, both went on to record for the label. Featured here is Porter’s thoroughly enjoyable hard-driving cover of “Help” with backing provided by a Motown-style female trio, as well as Hayes’ somewhat meandering arrangement of “Something.” Carla Thomas, another of Stax’s major stars, performs a previously unreleased version of “Yesterday,” recorded live at the Bohemian Cavern (this is NOT included on the 2007 jazz-oriented CD Carla Thomas: Live at the Bohemian Caverns from the same 1967 performance). A pleasant surprise was provided by two of the lesser known artists in the Stax stable. Reggie Millner’s interpretation of “And I Love Her,” which has never appeared on CD, is punctuated by frequent falsetto bursts in the style later made famous by Michael Jackson. In John Gary Williams’ funky cover of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” from 1972, he inserts “a devotional spoken monologue” mid-song, in a similar manner to the opening of Diana Ross’s 1970 cover of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”

Noticeably missing from the CD are Otis Redding’s version of “A Hard Day’s Night,” first released in 1982 on Recorded Live: Previously Unreleased Performances (revised, expanded, and reissued by Stax in 2002 as Good To Me: Live at the Whisky A Go Go, Vol. 2 ), and the fabulous version of “Hey Jude” recorded by Wilson Pickett with guitar accompaniment provided by Duane Allman. OK, I know the latter was issued by Atlantic and not Stax, but it certainly must be considered in any discussion of Southern soul covers of the Beatles songbook.

According to the liner notes by noted rock historian Richie Unterberger, Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein explored the possibility of recording what would become the Revolver album at the Stax studios in Memphis, and actually visited the studio in 1966 before scrapping the plan due to security issues. The Beatles and various Stax artists would finally meet for the first time in London in March of 1967, during the Stax/Volt Revue’s European tour. But aside from Steve Cropper’s later collaborations with John Lennon and Ringo Starr, the official alliance between the Beatles and Stax studios never happened. Too bad.

Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss