With all the hubbub of the Exile On Main Street reissue, you may have missed the recent release of Otis Redding, Live On The Sunset Strip. I’m sure this will be shocking news, but Otis is a revelation, breathlessly leading his 10-piece orchestra through four April 1966 nights at the 400-capacity Whisky A Go Go. Stupid broken time machine. At least we have the CD.
Otis Redding – Security
“The band would go, ‘1, 2, 3 …’ and Otis would come charging out of the wings, do a side slide right past the microphone, then slide back and grab the microphone, and start shouting out ‘I Can’t Turn You Loose.’ Well, PANDE-FUCKIN’-MONIUM! Everyone in the place was just nuts. Otis did stuff, he bent words around — the thing I learned from him — we used to say ‘worry a line,’ which meant hold on to it and shake it a little bit — the song, the line, the note. ‘These…arms…of…miiiiine…’ that would kill me.”
—Taj Mahal, whose band Rising Sons opened each of Otis’ shows, in Randy Lewis’ excellent LA Times piece, When Otis Redding caught a groove at the Whisky a Go Go, May 20, 2010
Truthfully, Otis is too good for the band, who can barely keep up. Listen to this and Live In Europe back-to-back — the latter recorded in March 1967 with Booker T & The MGs and the Memphis Horns — and Sunset Strip pales. But, that only means that within the realm of live Otis Redding documents, the album falls a bit short. There ain’t enough Otis catalog to spend too long nitpicking. Just get it.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?”
Otis’ stand at the Whisky takes a relevant turn when viewed as an act of racial integration. (And this is where I mentally ask myself, ‘Do you really want to go there? Race, really? To which I counter myself with a good point, ‘If there’s one subject that Americans can be counted upon to discuss like mature, reasonable adults, it’s race relations. Think about it, when’s the last time that turned ugly???’ Point taken. Race it is).
“(The Whisky) did a lot to integrate what went down on the Sunset Strip. In the beginning, Elmer and Mario (Maglieri, co-owner) would have Martha And The Vandellas there, or they’d have The Temptations, and all these people would be showing up and looking at each other, ‘What are you doing here?’ The white people would be looking at the black people, black people would looking at the white people, and everybody’d be looking at the Mexicans.”
–Taj Mahal, Live At The Sunset Strip liner notes
“People don’t realize how segregated it was. Black musicians didn’t come to Sunset. Word got out that this was a super hot show, nothing like anyone had seen in Los Angeles, unless you went to the 5/4 Ballroom, where you could have seen people like T-Bone Walker or Count Basie. But not on the Sunset Strip, which was still very segregated.”
—Ry Cooder (co-leader of the Rising Sons), When Otis Redding caught a groove at the Whisky a Go Go, May 20, 2010
The Sunset Strip in 1966 was a playground for mostly well-to-do white kids raised on The Byrds, Beach Boys, and Beatles. Aside from occasional dalliances with the Motown family of acts — or integrated local bands like Love and Rising Sons — mid-’60s Los Angeles was a Kookie, Gidgety blend of Anglo and Saxon. Into this breach stepped Otis Redding and his southern brand of black funk.
Otis Redding – Satisfaction
“They played (‘Satisfaction’) three times as fast as the record — I could not believe how fast he did that song. And they did it perfectly. They didn’t overplay — you couldn’t at that speed. Nobody soloed, nobody did anything fancy because they knew, he’s the star. It was good, flat out, top-of-the-line soul music.”
–Ry Cooder, When Otis Redding caught a groove at the Whisky a Go Go, May 20, 2010