Friday, September 26, 2008
Johnnie's Raggedy Ride
Johnnie Taylor - Stop Doggin' Me (live)
As mentioned in an early Wattstax-related post, the August 1972 showcase of Stax artists at the Watts Summer Festival ran over its allocated length, and several acts ended up not gracing the stage. Among those acts whose set was scrapped was Johnnie Taylor, who was quite rankled by this fact, as he was in the middle of a huge string of hits at the time. As Stax and director David Wolper began to develop what would eventually become the concert film Wattstax, it was decided that Johnnie Taylor should be included in the film, and an engagement at the Summit Club in Los Angeles was set up to be filmed. Taylor was paired up with a raggedy backing band, which didn't help his mood any, but a performance of "Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone" was captured and included in the film. Taylor's entire set was recorded, however, although but for a great stomping version of "Steal Away," the material sat in the can until Concord took over the Stax catalogue and released the Live at the Summit Club CD.
The CD is a treat to listen to, as Taylor's at the peak of his powers and, although the band has a tough go of things, especially early in the set (on "Take Care of Your Homework" they blow the chord changes at the end of the first verse, and Taylor literally chastises the band at points throughout), they do get better as they go along, and Johnnie's strong stage presence overshadows their shortcomings. The Don Davis - Bettye Crutcher composition "Stop Doggin' Me" came later in the set, fortunately, so with the warmed-up band, the warmed-up audience, and Taylor bringing his "A" game, everything "clicks" and the result is fantastic. Taylor was always strongest with blues-styled material, and he really shines here.