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Album review: "Otis Redding: Live On the Sunset Strip"

May 18, 2010 | 11:01 am

Otis Redding Sunset Strip

Pop quiz:  How many No. 1 hits did Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Otis Redding score before his death in 1967 in a plane crash?

Answer:  None. 

The R&B and soul great’s only chart-topping hit was “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” which was recorded less than three weeks before his death and released shortly after. And it’s the one song that casual Redding fans might wonder why it doesn’t appear on the new “Otis Redding: Live on the Sunset Strip” album being released Tuesday.

That's because the two-CD set was recorded at the Whisky A Go Go in West Hollywood in April 1966, well before he laid down the track for “Dock of the Bay.” At the time of these fiery performances, Redding’s star was streaking across the pop stratosphere thanks to a rapidly expanding catalog of soon to be classic songs he’d written and recorded  including “These Arms of Mine,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now),” “Mr. Pitiful,” “I Can’t Turn You Loose” and perhaps the only one on which he just might have been upstaged by another artist’s rendition, “Respect.”

Aretha Franklin’s version, however, was a little over a year away when Redding and his explosive 10-piece band powered through these shows, and you can practically feel the sweat in the room that night.

“Picture a calliope, spouting blasts of sound, and imagine a steam generator in the innards of the calliope, frantically driving the whole mechanism, and you have a fair vision of the 10-piece band led by Otis Redding, which opened at the Whisky A Go Go Thursday night with their massive Southern-style rhythm and blues sound,” Los Angeles Times staffer Pete Johnson wrote at the time in an article that’s reproduced in the 15-page CD booklet.

What’s great about the new Stax/Concord release is that it presents the complete three final sets from Redding’s four-day stint at the Whisky, which came right on the heels of his appearance at the Hollywood Bowl.

In 1968, some of the tracks surfaced on “Otis Redding In Person at the Whisky A Go Go.” In 1982, more of the Whisky performances were released, then in 1993 a CD, “Good To Me: Recorded Live At the Whisky, Vol. 2,” expanded on the previous LP. This is the first time the complete sets have been released in the chronological order in which they were performed.

There can’t be two fans any happier about this set than Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and not just because both were dyed-in-the-wool R&B and soul music fans. But because Redding’s recording of their “Satisfaction” was his latest hit when these shows took place, the song turns up no less than five times over the course of the three sets captured here.

He also detoured briefly from his own songbook to cover the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” and James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” but it’s the made-in-Memphis stuff that is the heart and soul of these shows.

Redding’s opening act was the Rising Sons, an L.A. band featuring soon-to-be-celebrated players including Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder.

“After performing our act we couldn’t wait to get offstage to watch all the things the musician did,” Mahal recalls in the liner notes. “For a bunch of young guys in the business to just be around someone who had a national vibe like that, who put everything out on stage and wasn’t stuck up, that was totally fabulous.”

Another fascinating musicological tidbit in Ashley Kahn’s lively essay: “According to Redding’s manager, Phil Walden, Dylan offered Redding a listen to his recent recording ‘Just Like a Woman’ that evening with the hope that he’d cover it. Though Redding was open to performing the work of younger songwriters — besides ‘Satisfaction,’ the Beatles’ ‘Day Tripper’ was in his repertoire — he apparently thought Dylan’s song was too wordy.”

When you hear how much mileage he gets by bending the single word “time” in “I’ve Been Loving You,” almost to the breaking point, it’s easy to understand how quantity of words was simply irrelevant in Redding’s world. All he needed was one good, meaty one. 

-- Randy Lewis


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