Otis Redding – Live at the Whisky A Go Go – The Complete Recordings (Stax / Concord) review
One of the greatest soul singers – turned wide slam open!
Otis Redding really was the quintessential soul singer. While contemporaries had their roots in gospel (Sam Cooke) or jazz (Ray Charles), Redding emerged from the farmlands of Georgia, and that combination of Southern charm and gritty delivery set him apart from all others. Yet, so little remains of his live performances. That’s what makes Live at the Whisky A Go Go – The Complete Recordings, such a revelation. By offering seven complete performances, we see that Otis really was that good.
The fact that Redding’s record company gave him the green light to record a live album, despite being a relative unknown outside the R&B market, was a bold move. Even more risky, they chose to do the recordings at the Whisky, typically a rock n’ roll club. Yet, the moment he takes the stage, he owns the audience.
Redding is backed, not by Booker T & the MGs (who accompanied him to Europe and were also featured on the legendary Monterey Pop Festival footage), but by his personal touring band. These guys are less polished; the guitar is distorted, the drums are very loud, and the horns blare, sometimes a little out of tune – but these guys are real, and that comes through loud and clear.
Many of Redding’s most well-known songs are here – “These Arms of Mine,” “Mr. Pitiful,” “Respect,” and especially, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” – all featured in blistering performances. The Whisky gigs were intimate enough where members of the audience could request songs and the singer would oblige. Take for example, on the final show, Redding says “it’s time to go home,” but a fan asks “Otis, can you do ‘These Arms of Mine,’” and he says yes. By leaving in the in-between banter, his personality really comes through. Plus, you get to hear him guiding the band – literally at the end of a song shouting out what he wants next, and the band is at the ready.
Otis mentions several times that they’re recording a live record – “Help us sell this album, we need them dollars, y’all. We got to eat next week!”
Several songs are repeated over and over. In fact, there’s no less than ten versions of his funky reading of the Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” each with Redding heavily ad libbing the words, while the band works things to a furious ending. They must’ve earmarked “Good to Me” as a potential single, because they spotlight that one several times too.
The final night’s performance is where everyone lets their hair down. In fact, Redding says “since tonight is the last night, and the man has paid us off, we’re gonna goof up a little bit.” It’s the only time they run through the killer “Destiny,” and Redding transforms the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” into a ferocious stomper. He ends up singing the song’s original first verse seven times, never bothering with anything else. But, it doesn’t matter, as the horns punctuate the “When I Get Home to YOU” – it turns into a funky groove. And when he sings that “everything’s gonna be alright,” you truly do believe it.
One of the set’s real standouts is a ten minute version of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” The song kind of falls apart and Redding says “we ain’t no James Brown,” but the crowd roars in disapproval and the band starts the song again. This time, they cook, and end up falling into a long groove. Redding at one point asks “are you tired”?
One listen to these performances, and you’ll be convinced that Otis Redding was one of the most electrifying performers in the history of soul music. But, by leaving in the talking, laughing, and joking around, this goes way beyond a typical live album – we actually feel like Redding is in the room with us. Live at the Whisky A Go Go – The Complete Performances is indispensable for any fan of classic soul. —Tony Peters