By Harvey Kubernik c 2016
Stax Records, an imprint of Concord Bicycle Music, is pleased to announce the Friday October 21st release of Otis Redding – Live At The Whisky A Go Go: The Complete Recordings via Universal Music Canada, the country’s leading music company.
On Sunday, October 23rd, Stax Records will host a listening party at Los Angeles’ Amoeba Records, just down the same Sunset Blvd. street where Otis and Co. recorded it 50 years ago. The event will include box set giveaways, along with other Stax items like tote bags, t-shirts and vinyl Otis Redding albums.
In chronological order, this six-CD collection presents the entirety of Redding’s historic performances over three nights at the famed Sunset Strip venue.
By the spring of 1966, 24-year-old Otis Redding was a bona-fide star on the R&B and soul radio waves. The singer was enjoying the critical and commercial success of his third studio album, Otis Blue, and was watching his singles cross over to the (typically very white) pop charts.
Redding had yet to be fully embraced by a white audience, and this weekend-long gig in Hollywood–booked at a venue known more for hosting hippies, and launching bands like the Doors, the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield–was a shrewd move to introduce Redding to a new market.
Just before his ’66 Whisky stint, Redding on April 2nd, performed at the Hollywood Bowl as part of a KHJ-produced “Appreciation Concert” to play both the Hollywood Bowl (as part of a KHJ-AM listener appreciation concert to benefit The Braille Institute of America.)
The Hollywood Bowl show included Donovan, Sonny & Cher, Bob Lind, The Knickerbockers, The Turtles, Jan & Dean, The Modern Folk Quintet and the Mamas & the Papas) and then his four-nighter at the Whisky A Go Go on the Sunset Strip.
Los Angeles music lovers and television children had already seen Redding in December 1965 when “Pain In My Heart” was broadcast in a TV performance on Dick Clark’s Where The Action Is. In addition, I caught “Just One More Day” from another Redding screen appearance the same day on Hollywood A Go-Go.
The seven Whisky club sets, recorded Friday, April 8th – Sunday, April 10th,, 1966, feature the singer’s popular songs of the time, including Respect, I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, “Security,” “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” “These Arms of Mine” “Just One More Day” and his cover of The Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.
Several of these recordings–all remixed and remastered from the original 4-track analog tapes–will be made available for the very first time.
This collection will be the first to offer fans the chance to relive all of the sets in their entirety–including between-song banter by Redding–exactly as they were performed. Rounding out the package is a poster, plus new liner notes from Los Angeles-based journalist Lynell George and box set co-producer Bill Bentley.
In fact, Redding would be the first major soul act to perform on the Whisky’s stage. In her liner notes, Lynell George adds context: “The Strip, like much of 1960s Los Angeles, had invisible but tough to permeate dividing lines…Redding began to see this three-night run as just the right spark to help him jump over all those many lines–from star to superstar, from R&B/soul to pop, from all-black rooms to arenas…”
The Whisky dates (with Otis’ nine-piece band) did prove to be an important step in Redding’s career, and introduced him to the emerging counter-culture of the ’60s.
Of the Whisky shows, The Doors’ guitarist Robby Krieger said, “I remember standing right in front of the stage for the whole show. I never heard of Otis Redding before and I was amazed at the energy that he created on the stage.”
The Whisky a Go Go is still located at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Clark Street. At the time, the famed room was owned and operated by Elmer Valentine and Mario Maglieri, two former cops from Chicago. The Whisky had already initiated an integrated patron and live booking policy that welcomed Otis and company with open arms.
In ’66, the club had booked the Otis Redding Revue and entourage which included an emcee and a full 10-piece band (led by saxophonist Robert Holloway) coupled with three up-and-coming singers who were allowed one tune apiece before he entered the famed Whisky stage in Hollywood.
Redding’s band for that long weekend were Holloway, Robert Pittman, Donald Henry—tenor saxophones Sammy Coleman, John Farris—trumpets Clarence Johnson, Jr.—trombone James Young—guitar Ralph Stewart—bass Elbert Woodson—drums.
In the tradition of the R&B tours and whistle stops of the era, Redding also hand-picked some singing protégés including the keyboardist in his group, Katie Webster, Carl Sims and Kitty Lane for the club date.
Two Redding numbers—“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” and “Respect”—had cracked the Pop Top 40, and a number of his recordings inspired covers by rock ’n’ roll bands, especially the Rolling Stones and his version of the group’s best-known song, “Satisfaction” was soaring up the singles charts in April 1966.
The news was out that Otis was in Hollywood and I just wanted to see Otis Redding’s name on the now legendary Whisky A Go Go marquee. I had one after school job delivering newspapers and handing out tickets to the Preview House on Sunset Blvd. I was always on my bicycle or skateboard in the area and happy to be milling around on the sidewalk outside sound checks.
The concept of me actually going inside the building was not considered. The venue had a strict age 21 and over admission policy.
I was comically miffed that a handful of slightly older girls I knew (and naturally had crushes on) from nearby Fairfax High School all saw the Otis shows, courtesy of print shop phony ID’s. Needless to say, Albert the Whisky’s door man was always a soft touch for gals in short skirts wearing tons of Fuchsia makeup. They didn’t even have to open their wallets or purses for inspection.
“Live at the Whisky a Go Go is culled from performance tapes under the supervision of Neshui Ertegun. Atlantic Records executive Ertegun was in the remote recording truck with engineer Wally Heider and assistant engineer, Bill Halverson parked outside.
Wally Heider, the West Coast’s leading recorder of live performances, was hired to tape three nights of Redding’s run at the Whisky—two sets on Friday, April 8, and three the next night and two on Sunday. Eretugun then assembled the tapes later in New York at the Atlantic Studios.
“I had been a horn player and Wally let me mix the horns through an Ampex mixer,” recalled Halverson to me in a 2010 interview from Nashville, Tennessee. “Neshui was in the truck. We had done Brazil ’65 and done a lot of jazz stuff with him. He was just a wonderful gentleman to work with. I knew him from doing live remotes. He always had a suit on. As nice a man as I had ever met.
“At the Whisky Otis was loud and ferocious. I was a big band guy and a vocal group guy who was in love with the Four Freshman and Hi Los, which really served me helping the Beach Boys and set me up for Crosby, Stills and Nash. My visual of the Whisky was at point, before it was the Whisky, it was the L.A. Conservatory of Music and we used to re-use the room downstairs for a rehearsal hall.”
This often overlooked Ertegun was no stranger to Los Angeles, either. During 1951-54, Ertegun worked in Los Angeles for Lester Koenig’s Contemporary Records, and penned liner notes on a couple of Barney Kessel albums for the Contemporary label.
He taught the first history of jazz course at UCLA that garnered academic credit at a major United States university. He co-owned–or owned outright–the Jazz Man Record Store originally owned by David Stuart in Hollywood, on the Sunset Strip. Nesuhi Ertegun then bought the store and moved it to La Cienega Blvd. with his wife Marli Morden, who was once hitched to Dave Stuart. They operated the record store on Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood before moving the business to Pico Blvd. in West L.A.
Ertegun was about to work for L.A. based Imperial records before brother Ahmet and Jerry Wexler persuaded him to join Atlantic Records. He was VP of the jazz and LP department and actively involved in their R&B recordings.
For Otis Redding, a live album in 1966 was a very logical career move: His manager and record label (respectively, Phil Walden and Volt, a Stax subsidiary) were seeking to further Redding’s crossover potential and expand his audience.
During the Otis 1966 Whisky stint, musicologist/drummer, Paul Body, then bunking in Pasadena, and still one of my running buddies, lingered outside the Whisky hoping to catch a glimpse of Redding with our other soul music devotees.
“Otis at the Whisky,” Body beamed. “I remember that it was a Friday night and Gooler and I and maybe Joe George went cruising down Sunset on the prowl for foxes. We ended up at the Whisky, standing outside. At that time we couldn’t get in because we were under age and didn’t have any fake ID on us. We usually had some fake ID but on this night we didn’t. That policy later changed. Anyway we just hung around outside and we could hear Otis Redding do his thing. It sounded great,” recalled the poet/actor former door man at the Troubadour.
“As we were waiting outside, a car pulled up and out piled the members of THEM, they had been doing a residency thing at the Whisky. I remember that Van Morrison was the last one out the car. I amazed by how short he was. Through the Whisky walls I could hear, ‘Respect’ and it was stomping. The doorman said that Dylan was inside. I like to think that that was the night that Dylan tried to turn the Big O on to ‘Just Like A Woman,’ which always sounded like a soul song to me anyway.
“It felt great that Soul was coming to the Sunset Strip. Didn’t get to see Otis until next year at the Monterey International Pop Festival and we that the rest is history.”
“Just before heading overseas on Bob Dylan’s 1966 ‘Going Electric’ tour, we heard that Otis was playing at the Whisky,” enthused Robbie Robertson. “He was my favorite singer at that time. Bob and I decided to go check it out and Otis didn’t disappoint. He sang with such power and passion it took your breath away. We got to spend time with him and his manager Phil Walden after the show. It was a night I’ll never forget.”
Music business veteran Robert Marchese, once managed Body’s band, The Sheiks of Shake, and was former manager of The Troubadour 1970-1983. He’s a record producer, who won a Grammy for producing the live Richard Pryor at the Troubadour comedy album.
“I saw Otis in Baltimore, Maryland at the Howard Theater,” begins Robert, “on a Saturday night when he had ‘Pain In My Heart.” End of 1963 I was in the military stationed in Ft. Mead, Maryland. I also saw him at the Royal Theater on Friday night. He was dynamic. One of the great shows I ever saw. He did not disappoint. It was a package of the top ten R&B acts on the soul charts and they would bring them in for the weekend and do a song each.”
Marchese then provides the run up to his next encounter with Otis Redding.
“In 1965 I was helping out arranger Don Randi as a stage hand who was working for Phil Spector as his musical director on The Big TNT Show in Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard at the Moulin Rouge that had Donovan, Joan Baez, The Byrds, Lovin’ Spoonful, Roger Miller, Petula Clark, and Ray Charles. Don Randi got me the gig. I was setting up the stage and working with the orchestra in the pit. I had earlier had gone to the Rolling Stones’1964 Long Beach concert with Phil Spector where The Byrds were on the bill.
“I was observing a conversation at the Moulin Rouge where Phil and Don were sitting around bull shitting discussing Ike & Tina Turner. I said, ‘Fuck Sam Cooke. Fuck Wilson Pickett. The greatest soul singer of our time right now is Otis Redding!’
“As I’m saying it, arranger Arif Mardin from Atlantic runs up and says, ‘Phil, you ass hole. Listen to this kid!’ He handed me a promo copy of either ‘Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul’ or The Soul Album instead of to Phil.
“I then saw Joe Adams,” continues story teller Marchese, “who was a well-known radio DJ in L.A. (The Mayor Of Melody) and an actor (Carmen Jones, among other credits). He was also Ray’s right hand man. I told Joe I wanted to shake hands with Ray Charles. He said ‘sure.’ I said hello to Ray, and then he motioned to Joe and me to take him to ‘meet’ Phil Spector, who was overseeing the whole ball game. The Byrds were setting up. Ray says to Phil, ‘Are you Mr. Phil Spector?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Are you the Boy Genius?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Are you the inventor of the Wall Of Sound?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Are you the guy who had over 20 hit singles in a row?’ Yes.’ ‘Then Mr. Spector, how come there’s no toilet paper in the bathroom?’
“When the Otis ’66 Whisky shows announced I was parking cars across the street at the 9000 Building,” shrugs Marchese, “and I told my boss I was going to the Whisky to see Otis. ‘Well you can’t.’ ‘I quit!’
“I had my uniform on and walked into the Whisky. I sat with Dylan and his entourage (Tom and Lisa Law) which I think included Robbie Robertson.”
Dylan was in Hollywood recording at Columbia Studios on Sunset Blvd. and residing at the time in The Castle in Los Feliz, a famed house overseen by onetime Albert Grossman employee, Tom Law, a former Peter, Paul & Mary road manager. Dylan insisted to Tom and Lisa Bachelis that they check out Redding and hoped in Tom’s car.
Dylan later went back again to the Whisky with filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker for another night of the Redding experience. Dylan stayed in a booth while Tom and Lisa spent the set on the dance floor before all then going upstairs to meet Redding who Dylan introduced them too.
“I knew Elmer Valentine who owned the club,” Marchese continued. “Otis was as good as the album. The album is proof of the pudding. At the Whisky he was more sure of himself from ’63. He kicked everyone’s ass in,” confirmed Marchese.
Drummer turned record producer/manager, Denny Bruce, an avid R&B fan, who played with the pre-Freak Out! Mothers of Invenstion, and then guided the careers of Leo Kottke, John Fahey, John Hiatt, the Fabulous Thunderbirds and longtime associate of Jack Nitzsche, later jamming himself with Taj Mahal one night at The Ash Grove, also caught the Otis Redding blast at the Whisky.
“I was amazed to see how big Otis was in person,” observed Denny. “I went as a paying customer and stood on the dance floor for this epic stand. It was a relief to see the real thing in person after the Enemies and the Leaves in that room.”
Redding was an instant phenomenon and his local ’66 shows did not go unnoticed by reviewer Pete Johnson of The Los Angeles Times. In his headline review, “Otis Redding’s Southern-Style Blues Band Lets Off Steam,” Johnson wrote: “Drawn by his growing popularity, a fervid audience shoe-horned into the club, chorused in on some of his songs and at one point interrupted his introduction of a ballad by clamoring for more of his fast paced tunes. Redding was assured of an In Group [sic] following Thursday night when from among his spectators emerged Bob Dylan, trailed by an entourage of camp followers.”
In May 2010, Pete Johnson emailed me about cosmic comet Redding.
“I loved Otis Redding very much both as a recording artist and as a performer. I saw him twice: at the Whisky and at the Monterey International Pop Festival. They were both magnificent performances. Like Ray Charles, he could slow down and elaborate a blues piece, morphing it from a song to a dramatic performance. ‘I’ve Been Loving You too Long,’ for instance, with its stately horn figures and his vocal agony stretched thin. Similar to, but quite different from, Ray Charles’ slow-motion live versions of ‘Drown in my own Tears’ and ‘A Fool for You,’ where time stands still as Ray duets with his piano, building toward the horns and the Raelettes.
“And then Otis could stomp on the accelerator and rip through ‘I Can’t Turn You Loose,’ a rock & roll locomotive. At this point I can’t remember how they crammed his band onto the Whisky stage. The Whisky hosted lots of great performances. This was up near the top.”
“I played the initial LP pressing on my KEBF-FM radio show,” remembered Dr. James Cushing. “If you spin it on good equipment you can tell different songs were taken from different shows so there are obvious differences in sound quality. Some songs with almost no bass, others with a fair amount of bass. I’m sure they were working out the logistics on the recording end as Otis’ Whisky shows happened.
“The recording got better as the gigs progressed,” Cushing offered. “Otis’s voice sounds really good on all the tracks, front and center. What a wonderful rhythmic improviser he is in terms of his voice, in terms of way of his delivery. It is his best live album but the instruments are a little inconsistent.
“I loved hearing brass at The Whisky. It’s Otis at The Whisky! The club then and now had great sight lines and great acoustics. There were seats on the dance floor level, too. And you could see everything well, even from the balcony on top. The sound system, then and now, always state of the art. The idea of somebody there like Otis Redding who had that stadium size charisma, with a full band and horn section.
“I’m so happy about the new remastered album,” he enthuses. “There is more emphasis on the drum sound. On the original it was equalized little far down. The addition of added tracks and material is fine.
“The extra minutes now added do not dilute the initial configuration. I don’t feel the intention has been violated because the original intention had to do with finding the retail market and with finding a balance between the music as music and the music as LP. The restrictions of what it could hold on each side of the vinyl. But now with the expanded playing time of CD’s and the whole computer mp3 thing, I feel that with this complete Redding at the Whisky A Go Go model we are getting a much more accurate picture of our own cultural past. With all its richness, liveliness, humor and all of the human touches now inserted.”
In 1967, Otis would be the star act at the Monterey Pop Festival, sharing a lineup that included Jimi Hendrix and The Who. Tragically, just as his career was reaching its peak, Redding’s life would be cut short in a plane crash in December 1967.
Guitarist and songwriter Steve Cropper then volunteers some peeks into Redding the person, not the entertainer, and Otis’s career plans for the rest of the Sixties. Otis used to call him “Crop.”
Cropper mentioned in a long distance call from Tennessee that, “Everything Otis touched he made it his own, like Sam Cooke’s ‘Shake.’ All of those things, you listen to them, and it’s sort of like a great actor, like if Gene Hackman takes a part, or if James Stewart takes a part, they become that character. And at the time you watched it you became part of them. You know what I’m saying? You don’t think about somebody else doing it.”
In our lengthy phone conversation, Cropper compared Redding to Elvis Presley and John Belushi. “I got to be around Elvis (Presley) quite a bit, and Elvis’ people, and I knew how that charisma thing worked. I saw Elvis in action, and when Elvis entered a room, everything stopped. Time just stopped, and I always referred to him as someone turning on a bright light bulb.
“Very few people on this planet that have that, or had that and Otis Redding had that. I saw it. It wasn’t something I manufactured in my own mind. If he walked into a lobby at a hotel, everybody stopped and turned. ‘Oh my God. Who is that? That’s Otis Redding.’ That’s the way it was. Like a president walking in the room. It wasn’t as big as Elvis, obviously.
“And one other person in my life had that same aura, and it was Roy Orbison. Roy definitely had that light bulb and he couldn’t go anywhere. He had that look, I guess, but he couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized and people just wanting to get to him. And, that’s the way Elvis was. I’ve had several people in my life like that. John Belushi. Everyone wanted a piece of him because he was everybody’s buddy. That’s the way Elvis was. Elvis came off as everybody’s high school friend. And Otis came off as everybody’s street high school buddy. He just treated everybody he came in contact with respect with he treated his whole family with,” stressed Cropper.
As for the world of Otis Redding we would never know in the physical sense, but just in retail cents, Cropper provides some insights into what Otis Redding was planning as the year of 1968 lurked around the corner.
Redding has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Georgia Music Hall of Fame, Songwriters Hall of Fame, and has been honored with a U.S. postage stamp.
Want more Otis?
Reelin; In The Years Productions and Stax Records (a division of Concord Music Group) issued Dreams To Remember: The Legacy of Otis Redding” in 2007 on DVD.
In addition, I was just interviewed by author Jonathan Gould for his book, Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life that will be published on September 27, 2016 from Crown Publishing Group. Gould is also utilizing an archive interview I conducted with Andrew Loog Oldham who initially suggested that Redding be booked for the Monterey International Pop Festival.
In my 2007 interview with trumpet player and story teller, the remarkable Wayne Jackson, a member of the famed Mar-Keys, and a veteran of Redding’s touring and recording lineups, discussed Otis Redding.
“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,” summarized Jackson.
(Harvey Kubernik has been a music journalist for over 44 years and is the author of 8 books. During 2014, Harvey’s Kubernik’s Turn Up the Radio! Rock, Pop, and Roll in Los Angeles 1956–1972 was published by Santa Monica Press.
In September 2014, Palazzo Editions packaged Leonard Cohen: Everybody Knows, a coffee—table—size volume written by Kubernik, currently published in six foreign languages. BackBeat/Hal Leonard Books in the United States.
Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik wrote the text for photographer Guy Webster’s award-winning first book for Insight Editions published in November 2014. Big Shots: Rock Legends & Hollywood Icons: Through the Lens of Guy Webster. Introduction by Brian Wilson.
In March, 2014, Kubernik’s It Was 50 Years Ago Today The Beatles Invade America and Hollywood was published by Otherworld Cottage Industries.
In November of 2015, Back/Beat/Hal Leonard published Harvey’s book on Neil Young, Heart of Gold).
During 2017, Sterling will publish Harvey Kubernik’s 1967 Complete Rock Music History on the Summer of Love).