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Review -- Johnnie Taylor -- Live at the Summit Club CD

A nearly lost performance by The Philosopher of Soul

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Johnnie Taylor: Live at the Summit Club

Johnnie Taylor: Live at the Summit Club

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You know him mainly for his Sixties hit "Who's Making Love," but R&B and soul fiends recognize the true genius of Johnnie Taylor's gutbucket soul career, which unfortunately peaked in the Seventies with "Disco Lady." This previously unreleased performance, however, finds Taylor at his peak: a rough-but-right live gig filmed for the 1972 Wattstax documentary.

About this CD

  • Recording: September 23, 1972, Summit Club, Los Angeles, CA
  • Release date: February 20, 2007
  • Label: Concord
  • Catalog number: 8628
  • Produced by Al Bell
  • Musicians: unknown

Pros

  • A rare chance to hear a soul legend tear it up live at his peak.
  • Because this set was being filmed, the sound is surprisingly good for a live album of this vintage.
  • Extended versions of Taylor's hits and workouts on other Stax labelmates' songs make this a must for blues and soul fans.

Cons

  • The hastily-assembled backup band isn't a perfect match for the legend.

My review

The 1972 Wattstax concert and film -- sort of a black-power version of Woodstock or Monterey -- has only recently come to garner the same kind of attention of the Nixon Era's other happenings, despite the appearance of a young Richard Pryor and the full roster of soul's greatest label. Such an embarrassment of riches it was, in fact, that some of the sets filmed for the movie never even made it in. Concord, having recently bought the back catalog of Stax from its previous owner, Fantasy, has begun rectifying that situation by issuing this previously-unreleased live recording of Johnnie Taylor at Los Angeles' now-defunct Summit Club. (Portions of this performance can be seen in Wattstax 2, but this marks the first time the whole set is available on CD.

For his part, Taylor's never been in better form, constructing a revue that's bluesier, looser, and more raw than even his famous Memphis recordings. He also stretches out a lot -- "Who's Making Love," his biggest hit at the time, goes to five minutes, and "Jody's Got Your Girl And Gone" runs a full nine -- and he finds room to include two versions of Clarence Carter's "Steal Away," one funky, one more traditional, as well as takes on little-heard gems from his back catalog like "Little Bluebird" and "Hello Sundown." The backup band assembled for these shows misses a number of cues, so many that Taylor has to upbraid them in public. But he does most of his talking with the audience, resulting in the kind of bond you only see at the best soul concerts. And Concord promises much more of this kind of thing to come.

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