"Are you ready for Star Time?"
So asks the emcee at the beginning of Live On The Sunset Strip, a recently unearthed 2-CD collection of live performances capturing the incomparable Otis Redding at the peak of his powers in 1967, during an Easter weekend stand at the legendary L.A. showcase club the Whisky A Go-Go.
The same emcee then proceeds to rattle off a litany of songs from the man who brought you such hits as…well, you get the idea. They simply don't do it like this anymore, and it's a damn shame. Live On The Sunset Strip serves as an unforgettable reminder of just how it used to be done, though.
Although many of these performances have surfaced in bits and pieces over the years and in various forms, Live On The Sunset Strip represents the first live document of Redding's 1967 stand at the Whisky to offer the last three sets in their complete chronological order. For fans of both Redding himself, and of the great, lost art of the original southern fried R&B/soul style revue, this is nothing short of a gold mine.
Today, Otis Redding is remembered primarily for his biggest hit, "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay" — a great ballad in its own right that has long since become a staple both on oldies radio and in karaoke bars. That song is nowhere to be found on this set — but there is actually good reason for that.
What is sometimes forgotten about the man who brought us that great ballad is that he was also arguably the most electrifying R&B/soul singer of his time.
At the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, for example, Otis is remembered by most who were either there or have since seen it on film, as one of the undisputed highlights of the legendary concert which also launched the careers of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. As Taj Mahal, whose band The Rising Sons opened the shows documented on Sunset Strip says, "Otis was it."
Here, backed by a ten-piece band led by saxophonist Bob Holloway, Redding displays ample evidence of just why he was held in such high regard. Although there is some unavoidable song repetition in the setlists (owing to the back-to-back nature of the three shows captured), what is heard here is the pure funky grit of one of the great soul men of all time, backed by a band that is as tight as a well-oiled machine.
For anyone in doubt, all you have to do is give just one listen to these guys firing on all four cylinders during "I Can't Turn You Loose" to learn just who wrote the blueprint for all the great R&B revues which followed — a template that would later be lovingly imitated by the likes of the Blues Brothers. On the last set, there's also a great little sax solo that allows the rest of the horn section to shine. You'd never know this was the third time it had been played (at least) in as many days.
Towards the end of that same set, when Otis says they've run out of things to play, the band breaks out the crazy great covers. Beginning with the Beatles' "A Hard Days Night" ("a song we've been itching to do," Otis explains), this hits a fiery climax with a smoldering ten minute version of James Brown's "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag." With its false starts and stops, Otis nearly out JBs the Godfather himself here.
Even on the Stones' "Satisfaction," the Otis Redding Revue gives Mick and the boys a solid run for their money. The band also specializes in the sort of rapid fire, non-stop delivery that Bruce Springsteen would elevate to a high art with the E Street Band a decade later. These guys play it like they mean it.
All of the hits (well, almost all of them) are here too — albeit sometimes in triplicate — from "I've Been Loving You Too Long" to Redding's take on "Respect."
On the former, Redding walks the same fine line between the desires of the flesh and the joys of the spirit that lies at the very heart of all the great soul men. As carnal as Redding's aching, heart-wrenching pleas of "don't make me stop now" may be, the delivery comes from the same sort of rapturous place you might hear in a southern church on any given Sunday.
And when Otis sings lines like "I've been loving you forty long years, and I'll love you forty more," for that moment anyway, you know that he means it with every ounce of sweat coming off of his brow. It's the same sort of feeling he later captured to such great effect on "Try A Little Tenderness," shortly before he left this mortal plane for good.
Yup. They simply don't do it like this anymore. And it's a damn shame.