I admit it, since reading ‘Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion‘ (Robert Gordon) I’ve been a bit hooked on soul music. It really is essential reading for any self-professed music aficionado. Having said that, I also believe that the stars have been aligning themselves lately to cater to this particular interest-slash-obsession. Almost minutes after I had discovered and purchased the ‘The Stax/Volt Revue, Vol.1: Live In London‘ I found this ‘Wattstax: The Living World‘ soundtrack in a cardboard box two kiosks over.
Neither box looked like it had been rifled through in years so, what fate brought me to discover them mere minutes apart, who can say? But when fate taps you on the shoulder and says: “Hey, these were meant for you!”, you don’t ask questions. You just slap the money down on the counter and say “thank you!”
Wattstax was a benefit-concert put together by Stax Records to commemorate the community of Watts, Los Angeles after its 1965 Riots. The concert promoted by legendary Stax man Al Bell, took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on August 20th, 1972. The concert’s performers included all of Stax’s prominent artists at the time and the genres of the songs performed included soul, gospel, blues, funk, and jazz. Months after the festival, Stax released a double LP of the concert’s highlights titled “Wattstax: The Living Word.” The concert was filmed by David L. Wolper’s film-crew and was made into the 1973 film titled, “Wattstax.” The film was directed by Mel Stuart and nominated for a Golden Globe award for Best Documentary Film in 1974.
The stage was built the day before the concert… in the middle of the night. This conflict happened because a football game was scheduled on the night of August 19th. Stax, being polite, did not make the Coliseum-managers cancel the game. Immediately after the football game, trucks full of long wood-planks drove onto the field. The stage was built right in the center of the field and was built high enough where artists could walk/sit under (a little less than 20 feet tall…). A platform was built that lead from the road (where artists would walk from) to the side stairs of the stage. The seats were hand-cleaned and trash was picked up all around the Coliseum… making the stadium look perfect for the next-day’s concertgoers. At around 1:45PM, the Coliseum grounds started to be swarmed with L.A.’s Black population. Guards stamped tickets and told concertgoers where their seats were located. The stadium’s seats filled up hastily, while the production-team was making sure everything was good to go. The concert’s orchestra (dubbed ‘The Wattstax’72 Orchestra’) and its composer, Dale Warren, sat until 2:38PM ready to play their warm-up instrumental and at 2:38PM, the first song was performed to a crowd of 112,000 (mostly African-American, hence the name “Black Woodstock”) and the rest – as they say – is history or, as Richard Pryor called it: “a soulful expression of the black experience”. The aforementioned book describes this occasion is excellent detail if you’re interested to know more – and you should – however here is a quick synopsis (click HERE).
The concert highlights decent performances by The Staple Singers, Eddie Floyd, the Bar-Kays, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Albert King, the Soul Children and Isaac Hayes. It’s not remarkably different from what you’ll find on those artists’ records, however, and Isaac Hayes does none of his more popular singles, his contribution being limited to a 17-minute cover of Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine‘. The Staple Singers segue from ‘I Like the Things About Me‘ into ‘Respect Yourself‘ in ‘I’ll Take You There‘ is epic and be sure to check out the Bar-Kays’ outrageous eight-minute soul-rock workout on ‘Son of Shaft/Feel It‘, though, which goes into some Santana-like grooves in the middle; Rufus Thomas launches into three dance novelties in a row (‘The Breakdown‘, ‘Do the Funky Chicken‘, and ‘Do the Funky Penguin‘). Note: a couple of these cuts (the Staple Singers’ ‘Oh La De Da‘ and Floyd’s ‘Lay Your Loving on Me‘), although programmed as if they were recorded live at the event, are actually versions that were re-recorded in the studio.
Perfect way to spend a quiet afternoon before “The Wart” comes through the door after being away for the weekend inevitably bringing my Recovery Day to a close and I’m back on “Dad Duty” once again.