Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Carla, Isaac and Donny

Carla Thomas:


Never Be True

Today is one of those days that just didn't start on the right foot: I didn't sleep well last night, I have a lot on my mind, and an accident on the highway forced me to sit in traffic for nearly ninety minutes on my way to work. One good thing came out of the latter, however, as it gave me an opportunity to listen to Live at the Bohemian Caverns by Carla Thomas, which was released for the first time by Concord/Stax last year, in its entirety, and listening to Carla Thomas is always a fine way to brighten up a day, right?

The Bohemian Caverns album was recorded on May 25, 1967, the second night of a five-night engagement Thomas had at the legendary Washington, D.C. jazz club. It was a particularly auspicious occasion, as Stax prexy Jim Stewart, Al Bell, Rufus Thomas (who performed a short set afterwards) and Carla's brother Marvell had come up from Memphis to show support (Otis Redding was also to attend, but he was delayed). Carla, backed by a fine ensemble featuring her Howard University classmate Donny Hathaway on piano, performed a great set of jazz, standards, her hits "Gee Whiz" and "B-A-B-Y" and the Donny Hathaway-Leroy Hutson composition "Never Be True." Although the concert recording was assigned a Stax album number, it ended up being shelved. Although the strength of the set leads one to wonder whose head was full of rocks to not release the album, the fact that the Otis and Carla LP King and Queen, featuring the smash hit "Tramp," was hitting the streets that year and that the Bohemian Caverns set was jazz-bent probably factored into the decision. It's fortunate for us soul fans that the album has seen the light of day now, because it would be criminal for it to have been lost to history!

The latter two tunes mentioned above are the focus of today's post. The passing of Isaac Hayes this weekend makes the inclusion of the Hayes-Porter tune "B-A-B-Y," a big hit for Carla in 1966, that much more significant. In keeping with the jazz leanings of the entire set, the band provides a Ramsey Lewis-esque groove to the tune, which Carla rides to glory, replete with some great ad libs later in the tune. Carla closed the set with "Never Be True," which she notes is a Hathaway composition, prophetically stating "I think we're going to hear a lot of things by this young man." Carla then proceeds to sing the mess out of the song, and I dare you to not be moved by her performance of it.

All I know is that maybe I should get stuck in traffic more often!

1 comment:

Dirk said...

Great tracks. Thank you for sharing them with us. RIP Isaac Hayes and Bernie Mac.