STAX Records HBO Multi-Part Docu-Series in Production

by admin  16th Aug 2022 Comments [0]

By Harvey Kubernik 

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Cable television channel HBO is preparing a new multi-part docu-series about landmark Memphis, Tennessee-based Stax label.

In the 1960-1975 period the Stax company placed more than 167 hit songs in the Top 100 on the pop charts, and 243 hits in the Top 100 R&B charts. Stax launched the careers of such legendary artists as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Rufus & Carla Thomas, Johnny Taylor, Isaac Hayes, Booker T & the MGs, Steve Cropper, Ron Capone, Albert King and numerous others.

STAX is directed by award-winning filmmaker Jamila Wignot, and executive produced by Academy Award winners Ezra Edelman and Caroline Waterlow of Laylow Pictures and Emmy winners Nigel Sinclair and Nicholas Ferrall of White Horse Pictures.

STAX is the story of the audacious group of outsiders who dared to make their own music on their own terms,” the producers explain. “The series will feature rare and never-before-seen archive material and will explore how a confluence of forces—race, geography, musical traditions and the challenging world of the recording industry—helped shape a Stax spirit that continues to shape our culture.

“Executive producers are Scott Pascucci, Sophia Dilley and Michele Smith for Concord Originals; Jody Gerson and David Blackman for Universal Music Group’s Polygram Entertainment; and Charlie Cohen and Ron Broitman for Warner Music Entertainment. David Peck of Reelin’In The Years, Jeanne Elfant Festa and Cassidy Hartmann will act as co-executive producers. Wignot will also serve as a producer on the project, alongside series producer Kara Elverson. Rob Bowman, author of Soulsville USA: The Story of Stax Records is serving as a consultant on the series.”

In a 2022 email, co-executive producer David Peck told me, “Stax records is very near and dear to my heart because the music that was cut in that Memphis studio from the late 1950s until it shut its doors in 1975 flows through my veins. Back in 2007, I directed a documentary on Otis Redding (Dreams To Remember) as well as producing the DVD release of The Stax Volt Revue Live In Norway.”

Directive: Go watch the mind blowing Reelin In The Years’ DVD The Stax/Volt Revue Live In Norway 1967. Widely bootlegged in truncated and poor condition for many years, this is the first time the 75-minute concert was made available on DVD, re-transferred from the original master tapes that had been resting in the television vaults for the last 40 years. The producers also discovered an additional lost reel with an extra 20 minutes of previously unseen performances from the same concert. This footage was restored, making this DVD the longest and most complete visual record of the legendary 1967 Stax/Volt tour.

Highly recommended are the potent full-length performances, including five songs by Otis Redding, a blistering four song mini-concert recital by Sam & Dave. The DVD also spotlights Booker T & the MG’s, Arthur Conley, Eddie Floyd and the Mar-Keys.

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Wayne Jackson was an R&B musician who played trumpet in the Mar-Keys and in the studio house band at Stax Records and was later a member of the Memphis Horns. In 2007 Jackson and I discussed that epic Stax/Volt ’67 UK/Europe tour and his Stax label memories.

“Initially it was going to be Otis and his guys who went on the road with him. It was Jerry Wexler who said, ‘No. They want to hear the sound of Stax.’ The UK audience knew it as the Stax/Volt band. The Mar-Keys and Booker T & the MG’s that made up the band. They loved Otis Redding like we all loved Otis Redding, but the band at Stax was the diving board he jumped off of.

“You can tell the horn sound,” mused Jackson. “Me, Andrew Love and Floyd Newman sound a certain way. All those records had that in common. All those records had Steve Cropper’s guitar, Al Jackson’s drums, Duck Dunn’s bass and Booker’s organ. Those things are very distinctive and that made up Stax sounds. And that’s where Otis came from. So, Jerry Wexler was really hip to say that,” Jackson remarked.


Otis Redding (Courtesy of Atlantic Records)

“I loved Otis and he loved me. We were big friends. ‘Cause we all liked to laugh, and we were all young and the testosterone levels were out of this world. That’s what you heard in that music. Al Jackson was a joy to watch. He was the most fun drummer I ever was around. He was just the best drummer you ever heard and the best drummer you ever saw. He was a great musician.

“Musicians are not in competition. No one in that band was in competition. We were one thing. We were there to support and glorify Otis Redding. And we did that. And it shows on screen. We were there to respect glorify and hold the singer up to glory. Whether it be Otis, Eddie Floyd or Sam & Dave. We did that. That was our job and we loved it and did it good. Everybody in that band had his position. Like Duck Dunn. Have you ever seen anybody work that hard on bass? It makes my hands cramp up.

“Playing on the 1967 Stax/Volt tour I didn’t alter anything. I just tried to hang on. ‘Cause the tempos were higher. Jim Stewart told Otis in England, ‘We’re recording this Otis so we need to get into the groove of Stax.’ And Otis said, ‘Fuck you. This is my show and I’m gonna leave these people out of breath.’ And that’s what he did. He ignored Jim completely. It was his way to keep the fire under their feet I don’t think he had more confidence. I don’t think he could have had any more confidence if he tried. He was just an exuberant, wonderful guy. He brought all of that to the stage with him.

“Sam & Dave tried to cut him every night. They tried to blow him out of the water but they never did. They were as strong as nine acres of garlic but Otis was ten acres of garlic!”
During my 2007 encounter Jackson, I felt a sense of destiny imbued the sound of Stax wax.

“Duck Dunn and I are both left-handed, born on the same day in the same hospital. It was a real spiritual and astrological happening at Stax,” acknowledged Wayne. “Andrew Love is three days older than me and he and David Porter were born the same day. Booker is a musical genius. Otis always brought a great contribution to all the sessions he was on. He was educated. Steve Cropper invented a style of guitar where the little guitar parts were singular. He played licks that became part of the song. The horns were part of the song. Without us they would not have been the same.

“Otis used a guitar to write songs and would use open key. So, he could just bar it put a bar on his finger and play up the scale and chords. He could easily write with it. When I was with Otis, he was on another energy track. Otis was like a 16-year old boy with a hard on all the time. Because all he could think about was writing a song and getting into a studio. That was his life. Zelma and those kids and the farm and his music in that order, I think. But outside of the farm he didn’t think of nothing but his career. Otis did an amazing body of work in the six years he was recording,” Wayne summarized.

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My brother Kenneth and I wrote a book A Perfect Haze: An Illustrated History of the Monterey International Pop Festival published in 2012. The June 1967 festival exposed Otis Redding to global attention and further spotlighted Booker T & the MG’s to an unsuspecting audience.

It was Rolling Stones’ manager/record producer and omnipresent musical tastemaker Andrew Loog Oldham who initially called talent manager Phil Walden to secure Otis for the Monterey booking. Walden then in turn dialed Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler to see if the festival was legitimate. Wexler also explained to him what the logic of it would be and Walden wisely took Wexler’s advice that Otis should do the gig for free.

“When Otis came on stage you forgot about the logistics,” offered Oldham in our 2007 interview. “We knew we were taking one small step forward for mankind. Phil Walden, his manager, was in heaven. He knew he’d just graduated from buses to planes. Phil Walden was one of the greatest managers of his time. His enthusiasm, his pure chicanery, his belief, his service to Otis was an example to the game.”

“Otis’ show at Monterey astonished me because he nailed that audience of hippies and weed heads in a way that was astonishing to me because that was not his core audience,” underscored record producer and former Atlantic Records executive Jerry Wexler in a 2008 interview I conducted with him.

“He nailed those hippies; that was unreal. A very loud fantastic rock band went on before them, I think Jefferson Airplane, you know with the 20-foot Marshall amps and all of this, so it was roaring. Now Booker T. & the MG’s open their show with their little Sears Roebuck amps. And you know what, it quieted down. The way you control a noisy crowd is if you are good, you play soft. You don’t try and out volume them. So, they had it set up, and were so good, they commanded so much attention, and when Otis came on the crowd was ready.”

In a 2007 interview, Stax mainstay, guitarist/songwriter and record producer Steve Cropper reminisced to me about the Monterey International Pop Festival.

“The way I recall it, they took us over to the festival in a school bus. We could hear the music and we heard a concert going in that afternoon. Now, we didn’t play until that night but they took us over early, ‘cause some of the guys wanted to hear some of the other artists. And, the Association was on stage as we pulled up, and I will never forget that.

“And here’s a connection, and I always loved their records on the radio, the influence of the Association in 1966-67, that the bridge on ‘Sittin’ On the Dock Of The Bay’ that I wrote with Otis was inspired by my like for their music. Hearing them was a little thing, but that was the inspiration for it, because we knew we had a hit, and we wanted to make it pop. To me the Association loved R&B but they were a pop group. You know what I’m saying? So that’s sort of the way I was trying to go with that. Of course, with Otis singing it, it became an Otis song. He got the idea when he was staying at a houseboat later when he was workin’ the Fillmore West.

“We didn’t have to do sound check or rehearsal at Monterey. Just plug up and go out there and play. Our clothing was different than the flower children. And that was the start of ‘be yourself and do your own thing.’

“One of the things that I recall is a very big compliment coming from Phil Walden, ‘cause Phil was about Phil, and Phil was also about Otis Redding. And they told Phil at Monterey, and you know we went on really late that night, and there had been some delays with the equipment because it was drizzling, and stuff.

“Someone running the festival came backstage back to Phil and said, ‘you know we’re really only going to have time for Otis Redding. Let’s just bring Otis straight on.’ And Phil said, ‘Balony.’ You’re not touchin’ this show. These guys are gonna go out and do the same thing they always do.’

“Which meant we brought out Booker T & the MG’s, we did one or two songs, and brought out Wayne [Jackson] and them, and did ‘Philly Dog’ and maybe ‘Last Night,’ and then we brought out Otis. And, that’s the way we did it, and Phil stuck to his guns.

“The other thing that happened was that about three or four songs into the set, the [Musicians] Union there came back and said, ‘We’re gonna have to shut this show down because we’re over curfew.’ And, Phil went over to them, ‘You ain’t touchin’ this. Them boys are gonna finish this show!’ So we didn’t know what was going on. We heard about this later.

“At Monterey, that audience sat out through the rain to see us, or wait to see Otis Redding, and that’s the first time I ever experienced that. And they were more curious than anything else. Otis had found his audience, and Monterey helped him cross over to a wider white pop market. They already knew how big he was in Europe and Europe.”

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Marty Balin: For me a highlight of the Monterey International Pop Festival was Otis. I had been around and he knew who I was. We went on before he went on. And nobody got the crowd moving but when the Airplane came on we got the crowd moving. We got them excited and got ‘em up and dancing. And I walked off and Otis Redding was standing there and he said, “Hey man. It’s a pleasure to be on the same stage with you.” For me, that was it, baby. Right there. He staggered the crowd.

In 1966, and ’67, and all through Jefferson Airplane, we did my tune ‘It’s No Secret.’ I originally wrote it with Otis Redding in mind. It was for him. I used to hang out with Otis and follow him around like a little puppy dog and watch his shows. Hang out with the band and him. I just wanted to write him a song that had his kind of groove thing I thought. But Otis never did it. He did write his own songs.

I didn’t discover Otis at the Monterey International Pop Festival. In fact, I was the guy who took the 45 record of Otis’ “These Arms of Mine” to Bill Graham. “Hire this guy. I want to see him.” And Bill Graham did. December of 1966. He would listen to the bands of who to book and as support or lead acts. Otis was the most powerful person I’ve ever seen perform. Outside of anybody you name. I’ve seen a lot of people play and on TV. I’ve never seen anybody handle an audience like him and rock the joint. The energy level was amazing with this guy. He had that great horn section.

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Paul Body: He brought Memphis to Monterey. He turned the festival grounds into a sweaty juke joint on a foggy night. I was standing up on someone’s car that was outside and we danced on the roof. Otis looked like a king dressed in an electric green Soul suit. He came on like a hurricane singing Sam Cooke’s “Shake” at breakneck speed. It was a real electric moment. He looked like a damn fullback up there. He was as magnificent as a mountain. It looked like nothing could stop him. He could rock but when it came to that slow burn Southern style, no one was better. He was giving the love crowd a lesson in slow dancing. He ended with “Try A Little Tenderness” turning it inside out and making it scream for mercy. He slowed it down to a simmer, started off some mournful horns, Booker T’s organ and his voice. Al Jackson came in with light rimshots that sounded like raindrops from heaven in the foggy night. Then Cropper came in with some tasty rhythm chops, then Al started beating out the groove, pushing it and they took it home. I had never seen anything like it.”

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Al Kooper: I watched Otis Redding disarm the audience. He was fantastic. The audience sort of didn’t know him and he hadn’t played in front of white people before. It was great. “This is the love crowd.” Shit like that. They gave him a lot of love. And, he had one of the greatest bands in the history of rock ‘n’ roll behind him. I’d seen Al Jackson before. He was like the Charlie Watts of black music.

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Bill Graham: The single most extraordinary talent I had ever seen. A six foot three black Adonis in a green suit, a black shirt and a yellow tie who moved like a serpent or a panther stalking his prey.

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On August 20, 1972, over 110,000 people witnessed a seven-hour concert in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The epochal Wattstax music festival celebrated a new direction in soul and R&B for 1972. Isaac Hayes, the Staples Singers, Luther Ingram, Albert King, Little Milton, Johnny Taylor, and Rufus Thomas contributed to this event recognizing the increasing cultural and financial strength of the downtown and South Central LA communities.

The entertainers’ expenses, the equipment, the promotion, and the advertising were all paid for by the Stax organization, in conjunction with the Schlitz Brewing Company. Ticket sales benefited the Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation, the Martin Luther King Hospital in Watts, and the Watts Summer Festival.

In 1973, the documentary film Wattstax, directed by Mel Stuart, enjoyed a national theatrical release. It debuted at the Cannes Festival in 1973 and nominated for a Best Documentary, and a Golden Globe. There was a double-disc sound track.

“They asked me to do the show,” recalled Stuart in a 2006 interview I did with him for my book Hollywood Shack Job: Rock Music In Film and on Your Screen.

Wattstax started when Stax Records wanted to do a big concert at the Los Angeles Coliseum to recognize the Watts Riots of summer 1965, and wanted to show off all their artists in a big concert that would go on for nine hours. Al Bell, then the Stax Organization’s board chairman, got in touch with David Wolper, who I worked with, and he had some connections at Columbia Pictures, and through David, Stax, and Columbia, they decided to shoot a documentary that would play in the theaters.

“I knew a lot about music, but I had never done a show like this. What I did was meet with the Stax people, and basically, the way I wanted to work was to be the only white person. Everybody else would be black. Everybody who would advise me, be around me, and guide me would be black, because they would understand [that] what we were trying to do was create some kind of personification of the way black people feel at a particular time. I made sure that we hired all-black crews because, at the time, they didn’t get a chance to get jobs. I don’t do storyboards. I’ve done too many documentaries, and just follow my brain.

“The Stax people lined up all their talent that was available. I was also fortunate, because three or four acts couldn’t make it, so I had the Emotions on location in a church, both Johnnie Taylor and Richard Pryor in a funky club, and Little Milton out by the railroad track.

“Luther Ingram’s ‘(If Lovin’ You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right.’ Man, I love that song. I think that song is so ‘on.’ I used the entire full version. Rufus Thomas’ ‘Funky Chicken.’ A big moment for me was when Kim Weston got up and sang ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ and nobody stood up. And they really stood up for Jesse Jackson’s ‘I Am Somebody’ and ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’”

In 2003 a DVD was issued and screened at the Sundance Film Festival.

“There are people coming to see it now, who weren’t even born when the movie was made,” reiterated Stuart. “By the way, the audience gets more and more white. It’s become a thing. I think people have a much greater understanding of the black experience today than they had then.”

In the fall of 2022, the Concord record label will be issuing a 12 CD set on Wattstax with a 20,000 word liner note by Rob Bowman.

D.A. Pennebaker (Courtesy Pennebaker Hegedus)

In 2000, D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus directed Only the Strong Survive. A travelogue where they lensed recording artists representing different aspects of soul music from Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Memphis.

“We had heard about this Luther Ingram benefit in Memphis and a lot of the Stax musicians came for that event,” gushed Pennebaker. “The US film release also coincided with the reopening of the long-closed Stax Record studio in Memphis.

“It does have an arc, but it’s much more operatic. In seeing Carla and Rufus come together has such an operatic quality and to see Carla really belt that song out so beautifully. It’s like suddenly you realize what she was all about. You know she knows music upside down and backwards.

“Rufus…What a face. He has such a marvelous way of dealing with the instant, ya know. Everything is as funny as it is at that instance. That’s amazing. He’s like a 12-year old. I love that. I’d seen a picture of him before we did the film, and I thought, ‘that’s a great face to film!’ And when we went to visit him at the radio station there he was. I couldn’t take my camera off him. He was so wonderful just to look at. We had two cameras, which normally we don’t, Nick Doob and I. But we started shooting Rufus on air the way we would shoot a narrative film, so we could cut quick dialogue, and it gave it a whole kind of style that I thought was radio-like.”

Oscar-winning documentarian Morgan Neville in 2007 directed and produced a real-to-reel deep-dive exploration of the Stax world in his Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story.

Before HBO’s Stax is broadcast on TV, do check out Neville’s probing expedition.

In my 2021 book, Docs That Rock, Music That Matters, Morgan and I discussed Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story.

“It has a link to my Brill Building documentary in the sense that Stax Records was about opening a studio in South Memphis and letting the kids in the neighborhood like David Porter, Isaac Hayes and Booker T Jones come in and make music. The moment where somebody created a moment and situation where young people could come and do the best creative work they were capable of. They were challenged and they rose to that challenge.

“Just a great story of these people who ended up writing music that scored a popular culture for many years. But it’s such an unlikely story. I really think Stax is one of the rare stories where the music is as amazing as the story. Everything about Stax is a big story with big characters. And, it’s about race in America the sixties and seventies. But the music is freaking good! If I’m picking music, I’ll pick Stax over Motown any day.

“I started to learn about Stax through Peter Guralnick. Reading his stuff and becoming friends with him. I did a documentary with Peter about Sam Philips and Sun Records. Through Peter I got to know Robert Gordon. We did a Muddy Waters documentary and I started spending a lot of time in Memphis. And Stax was like the great untold story of popular music in the south to my mind. It had all the elements. It was like a Greek tragedy with an amazing soundtrack. It took a couple of years to get that film made.”

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“There’s no need for me to be bragging on myself and I don’t do that and it’s not an ego thing, and all that,” emphasized Steve Cropper.

“I don’t think there ever was or ever will be a band that had the magnetism that Booker T & the MG’s had. Whether they back somebody or played on their own. In our high school days and upbringing. We had that band mentality thing ‘cause we worked as a unit. Because if some guy wants to go out there and ego on stage, he’s gonna blow it for everybody else. We learned to play as a unit in the studio. We were there not for ourselves but for the artist we were playing behind. In the studio when I was writing songs and starting to record them, I always saw it in my head as a finished product. I knew where to go with it.

“We were treated with more like royalty and respect in England. It was amazing. Like the Beatles! When we’d finish a show there would be hundreds of people wanting to touch us, grabbing a piece of hair, wanting an autograph, hundreds of people trying to touch us. They used to have to line bodyguards up so we could get from the stage to the bus. We’d never seen that before. That was something that just was unheard of, especially in the States.

“All of a sudden it changed everybody’s egos. And things started happening, and all of a sudden, the whole aura around Stax started changing because everybody all of a sudden wanted to be an individual. They didn’t want to work as a team anymore, and I was fighting for the team. I fought for that team big time. To me it was like the greatest basketball team that ever came together. When they went into the studio together magic things happen. And they won. And winning was to have a hit record. A hit single on the charts.

Booker T & the MG’s (Photo by Henry Diltz)

“Al Jackson, Booker, Duck and I grew up playing nightclubs in Memphis. Wayne Jackson grew up that way. So, we had that band mentality thing and we worked as a unit. You know what I’m saying? You have to play as a unit. Playing live, like at Monterey Pop, if a vocalist is not there, I’m playing vocal parts. when a vocalist is there, I back off and play rhythm and fills.

“And then the other thing that happened historically was that in 1968, was the day that Martin Luther King was assassinated, that whole musical aura at Stax the bubble was burst. Never was the same and will never ever be the same.

“You know, I always said it didn’t have to happen in the first place and why did it have to happen in Memphis? A quiet town and everybody got along. You look back, and there were things happening around me that I wasn’t aware of. My buddies didn’t talk to me about it. We never had a problem. We went to each other’s houses, we hung out. We went to restaurants together. We were blood brothers if anything else. We were family. Big time family. So, this sort of changed everybody’s lives without question.

“So, thank God, the Monterey [International Pop Festival] was before that,” sighed Steve.

In 2006, Elvis Costello handpicked some of his favorite Booker T & the MG’s recordings for a collection he compiled, Booker T & The MGs: Stax Profiles. In his liner notes, Costello suggested, “If the city fathers of Memphis ever get around to doing the right thing they will erect a ‘Golden Statue of the Groove’ to Al Jackson Jr.”

In a 1997 interview with Keith Richards in San Diego, California before a concert by the Rolling Stones, we chatted about recording studios, Stax, Motown, Chess, and B.B. King blaring from his jukebox.

“You never point the microphone actually at the instrument,” instructed Keith. “You’ve got them in the corners pointing and once you’ve found those placements, you don’t really change them. One of the joys of it was that you’re not really aware that you’re actually making a record.

“The room is good if you know what you’re doing. Use as few microphones as possible. All the tinkering, splitting things up can never achieve. The whole idea when you play music is to fill the room with sound. You don’t have to pick up each individual instrument, particularly in order to do that. Because a band is several people playing something. And somewhere in the air of the room, that sound has to gather in one spot. And you have to find that spot,” enthused Richards.

“Nowadays I think in a way, maybe when you write a song you are thinking, ‘Can I do this live?’ And so, in a way you add that in. You don’t know if it’s gonna work, but I guess you keep in the back of your mind is ‘We’re making a record here. What happens if they all like it and we gotta play it live?’

“So, in a way that maybe in the back of the mind it sets up the song to be playable on stage,” suggested Keith, as he happily autographed a copy of an Exile on Main Street compact disc to me.

In 2002 I interviewed Rolling Stones co-founder and bassist Bill Wyman in Santa Monica, California, about the Stones’ recording chemistry.

“I always thought… As long as me and Charlie could get it together, then the rest of the
band could do what they’d like and it worked. And that’s what happened in the studio, and that’s what happened live. Me and Charlie were really always on the ball, always straight, always together and had it down. If we had our shit together, we got it right. What he was doing and what I was doing, standing next to him and watching his bass drum, and all that, which a lot of bass players don’t do, stupidly, once we got our thing going, and the group was there, then anything could happen. That’s all there was. There was simplicity. It wasn’t how many notes you played, it’s where you left nice holes, and I learned that from Duck Dunn and people like that.”

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The Los Angeles soul and R&B radio station KGFJ in the late fifties, sixties and seventies had Stax singles and LP cuts on their playlists. Stax tunes were spun by deejays Magnificent Montague, Hunter Hancock, Tom Reed, and Jim Wood along with Wolfman Jack on XERB. Decades ago, I saw Stax acts around Hollywood and inside Los Angeles clubs. I got Johnny Taylor’s autograph for Paul Body!

I remember a Hollywood May 1975 visit to Cherokee Studios on Fairfax Avenue during Rod Stewart’s Atlantic Crossing sessions. Cropper, Stewart and engineer Tom Dowd regaled me with anecdotes about Stax and staff. I went out to eat with Rod and Cherokee co-owner Con Merton, at the Cock ‘n Bull tavern on Sunset Blvd. Excellent trout. It was a watering hole of television and movie actor/producer Jack Webb.

 I interviewed Rod at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. He loved talking about Sam Cooke and Stax.

David Bowie’s “1984” from Diamond Dogs was playing on an FM radio and Rod remarked after listening to the opening guitar riff, “Sounds like David has been listening to Isaac Hayes’ ‘Theme from Shaft.’”

That 1967 Stax/Volt tour of the UK really made an impact not only on Stewart’s record collection but his monumental career.

In 1977, Rod covered Luther Ingram’s hit “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right)” on his album Foot Loose and Fancy Free, produced by Tom Dowd.

“Rod Stewart was foaming at the mouth when I got the horn section in for Atlantic Crossing,” recalled Wayne Jackson in our 2007 exchange. “Before that we did Smiler. I recently heard Smiler. Boy, we were some excited folks. I mean me and Andrew were like 31, 32, so anyway we were in England again and recording with a rock star. It was so exciting. He was in love with all of us. Peter Gabriel. I went up to Bath. He saw Otis in Brixton (at the Ram Jam club). I did the arranging on ‘Sledgehammer.’ (The song was written as a tribute to Redding). Stevie Winwood told me personally that our ’67 tour changed his life that night.”

That applies to Keith Richard, too. The Rolling Stones have never shied away from their love and appreciation of Otis Redding and his early Stax/Volt catalog. The band have recorded “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” “Pain In My Heart,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” and on their 2005 Bigger Bang tour performed “Mr Pitiful” at concerts. On their debut LP, produced by Andrew Loog Oldham, they cut Rufus Thomas’s “Walking the Dog.”

Around a month of 1997 Rolling Stones’ Bridges to Babylon Ocean Way recording sessions, one evening Keith and I talked about his favorite Stax tracks. Later, after dinner with Ronnie Wood at Musso & Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard, they both devoured liver and onions, Keith smiled and said sweetly, “Stay on the mission, mate.”

Keith Richard and Harvey Kubernik, 1998 (Photo by Robert Sherman)

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© 2022 Harvey Kubernik

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HARVEY KUBERNIK is the author of 20 books, including 2009’s Canyon Of Dreams: The Magic And The Music Of Laurel Canyon and 2014’s Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll In Los Angeles 1956-1972. Sterling/Barnes and Noble in 2018 published Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik’s The Story Of The Band: From Big Pink To The Last Waltz. In2021 they wrote Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child for Sterling/Barnes and Noble.

Otherworld Cottage Industries in 2020 published Harvey’s Docs That Rock, Music That Matters, featuring interviews with D.A. Pennebaker, Chris Hegedus, Albert Maysles, Murray Lerner, Morgan Neville, David Leaf, Dick Clark, Curtis Hanson and Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

Kubernik’s writings are in several book anthologies, including, The Rolling Stone Book Of The Beats and Drinking With Bukowski. Harvey wrote the liner notes to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s Tapestry, The Essential Carole King, Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, Elvis Presley The ’68 Comeback Special, The Ramones’ End of the Century and Big Brother & the Holding Company Captured Live at The Monterey International Pop Festival.


The Who: Half Speed Mastered Albums, Shel Talmy, Pete and Roger on the Monterey International Pop Festival and more

by admin  12th May 2022 Comments [0]

By Harvey Kubernik

 

Keith Moon, the drummer of the Who and I in 1975 did an interview for the now defunct Melody Maker at the Laurel Canyon home of his manager, Skip Taylor, the record producer of Canned Heat since 1967. That year I witnessed the Who’s Southern California live debut at the Hollywood Bowl.

In our ’75 conversation, Moon and I discussed the Who.

“Everybody labors under the misconception that Pete Townshend is the leader of the band. There is no leader. It’s the Who. We’re a group. Each individual is one fourth of the whole. There’s a lot of talent in our group.

Tommy never stopped growing. When Pete was writing it, he got to a point where he was saying, ‘Where do I go from here?’ We were sitting in a boozer in London, which is most unlike us, throwing ideas around. And I said, ‘Well, what about a holiday camp?’ So, it was ‘Tommy’s Holiday Camp’. This is how the Who works. Everybody contributes, everybody is part of what we are involved in. The involvement is total, with no one person in control.”

Just issued in May from UMe is the first in a series of half speed mastered studio albums from the Who; My Generation and A Quick One. These limited-edition black vinyl versions have been mastered by long-time Who engineer Jon Astley and cut for vinyl by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios with a half-speed mastering technique which produces a superior vinyl cut and are packaged in original sleeves with obi strips and certificates of authenticity.

July will see the release of two more half speed mastered Who albums, The Who Sell Out and Tommy.

Regarded as one of the most important albums of all time, Tommy is a rock opera about a deaf dumb and blind boy, which, when released in 1969, reached No 2 in the UK charts and No 7 in the US. The album contains songs such as “Pinball Wizard,” “The Acid Queen” and “I’m Free” and is packaged in the original sleeve artwork.

Released in 1967, The Who Sell Out was the third album released by the band and is revered for being one of the first concept albums, celebrating the short-lived pirate radio stations of the late ‘60s with its groundbreaking use of fake adverts and jingles between songs. Highlights include “I Can See for Miles,” “Armenia City in the Sky” and “Tattoo,” and as with Tommy, it’s also been mastered by Jon Astley.

(more…)


Painting Trees: Damo Suzuki on Being Content at Home

by admin  10th May 2022 Comments [0]

By Bill Furbee

 

Paintings and the outdoors have taken the place of a tour van and stages for improvisational icon Damo Suzuki. Spring is here and, today, Damo can probably be found in a nearby park, painting trees.

Damo and I first spoke in February of 2020-an interview to promote a scheduled performance at Chicago’s Empty Bottle. Shortly after, however, venues around the world shuttered their doors in response to the spread of COVID-19. With his schedule suddenly silent, Damo happily agreed to a follow-up call just a month later. Thankfully, his amiable nature was still on tap.

“I don’t have a job at the moment,” he told me, then. “It’s not possible to do anything. I canceled my US tour, I canceled my Italian tour … I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he reported from his home in Cologne, Germany.

He paused to pour himself a Kölsch beer.

“But it’s okay,” he told me. “Maybe (this is) an opportunity to make something else.” He reflected for a moment, then beamed a wide smile. “Cheers!” he said, lifting a frothy glass of beer to the camera on his computer monitor.

And now, we’ve spoken for the third time. Damo’s still at home, and in no hurry to get back on the road. If it was a decade ago, Damo might have been looking for picnic blankets and hiking gear. But, times have changed. There is a pandemic at large. Vaccine requirements and contract tracing-measures that are helping to bring the virus under control, allowing concerts to take place again-aren’t exactly conditions that Damo can get behind.

“At the moment, it’s so much difficulty traveling,” he says. “I don’t like to make a test at the airport; I don’t like to make anything that the system wants to have. Every country has its own directions-like if you eat or drink in a cafe, you sometimes have to have a vaccine passport, you must be vaccinated or you must have a test,” he says.

“For me, it’s a good time to have a break. So I treat it as my vacation, at the moment-for three years,” Damo admits, with a chuckle.

“It’s okay,” he reasons. “I’ve traveled quite a lot already before.”

Damo also has a lot of books at home-nearly 10,000, in fact. He’s eager to share titles and authors that he’s preoccupied with, while admitting, “fiction I can make with myself … my life is sometimes like fiction! Nonfiction is much more interesting at the moment.”

Meanwhile, a number of his recorded performances are still being issued. While Damo would much rather perform than release recordings, he acknowledges that many of his collaborators are interested in releasing those performances. So, he mostly leaves that decision to them.

“I’m not so particular about making an LP or album,” he stresses. “It’s not (been my job) for a long time. I just like the live concert, and not always documenting. But some people who have performed with me, they like to release it. It’s okay, they can make it. I don’t say many things. Because they also have the right to make something as documentation. So I cannot say, ‘oh it was not very good’ or anything-it’s not my task, it’s not freedom. They just ask me, (and) 99% of the time I say ‘okay.’ But, if they have something like on the front cover I wouldn’t like, if it’s demonic or satanic, or something like that, then I really don’t like to have it.”

Worth noting that Damo’s most celebrated band-psych-rock progenitors Can-has also been issuing a steady stream of reissues and rediscovered concert recordings of late. Damo, however, assures me that he’s had no communication with management or any surviving members.

“No, no (input) at all, I don’t have any contact with them,” he says. “That was already a half century before, you know? So it’s not that much things to talk about. I don’t take too much time to think about things, past.”

He adds: “I like to make music for the people who like this kind of music; I have never been interested in having a huge audience. It’s not my thing.”

Where does this leave Damo?

“I feel good!” Damo laughs, quick to point out that he now has time to exercise and observe nature. “If you’re outside, you can get vitamin D, the sun,” he says, “and it’s not been so cold this winter.”

As spring heralds in a season of new beginnings, Damo is happy to stay where he’s at for the time being.

“I like to go outside with a sketchbook,” he says, as our call wraps up. “And I like to paint trees. Spring,” he says with a beaming smile, “is always good!”