“Are you ready for star time?” Considering that the star in question was “the one and only, Volt recording star Otis Redding," the answer was bound to be in the affirmative. That was the introduction granted Redding by emcee Al Brisko Clark at West Hollywood’s Whisky A Go Go on the evenings of April 8, 9 and 10, 1966. The Whisky was the happening nightspot on the Sunset Strip in ’66, immortalized by Johnny Rivers on a 1964 LP and frequented by a who’s who of the Los Angeles music scene. (See Dominic Priore’s excellent 2007 book Riot on the Sunset Strip for the definitive account of this heady time and place.) The 24-year old Redding’s stint at the Whisky was captured by Wally Heider’s mobile recording unit for the posthumously-released In Person at the Whisky A Go Go (Atco LP 33-265, reissued as Atco/Rhino R2 70380) which drew on different sets to create a composite performance. This perpetually in-print LP was joined by a companion volume in 1982, Otis Redding Recorded Live: Unreleased Performances (Atlantic 19346), which was itself expanded for the 1993 Stax CD Good to Me: Recorded Live at the Whisky, Volume 2 (Stax SCD-8579-2). Now, more than 40 years after Redding’s 1967 tragic death, Stax/Concord offers Live on the Sunset Strip (STX-32046), a 2-CD collection comprising the final 3 consecutive sets of Redding’s Whisky run. While some of this material is duplicated on the prior releases, this is the first time the sets (Show 2 – Set 3, Show 3 – Set 1 and Show 3 – Set 2) can be experienced as heard by the crowd at the corner of Sunset and Clark on those April nights.
As expected, there is much duplication among tracks on Live on the Sunset Strip. “Satisfaction” is heard an astounding 5 times, while other songs such as “I Can’t Turn You Loose” and “Chained and Bound” are also heard in multiple renditions. Some songs played the first evening at the Whisky (such as “Pain in My Heart” which appears on both previous releases) don’t appear at all. The constant here is the sheer ferocity of the entire ensemble billed as the Otis Redding Revue (and on the CD artwork as “Otis Redding and his Orchestra”): an emcee, at least 3 saxophones, 2 trumpets, a trombone, electric bass and lead guitars, drums and four backing vocalists. The take-no-prisoners approach is instantly epitomized by the first CD’s opening track, “Security.” Redding would vary his opening numbers – “I’m Depending on You” opens the second set here, and “Destiny” (a.k.a. “Your One and Only Man”) opens the third – but “Security” remains a full-throttle attack of the Stax/Volt shouter who brought the church to pop, rock and soul. It’s fascinating to hear him sounding breathless during between-song patter, and listening to him escalate his already-boundless energy throughout the show. The culmination may be the final set’s incendiary, extended “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” heard here in its full, 10-minute glory for the first time.
Redding’s wild vocal riffing and interplay with the uninhibited horns remain exciting today especially on the multiple performances of “Satisfaction,” which will make you think Otis wrote it himself. (Redding’s sets here primarily comprised his self-written material; along with “Satisfaction,” versions of “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and Wayne Moman’s “Destiny” are the non-originals heard.) It’s rumored that the original LP was delayed as a result of an off-key trumpeter. But if the band is indeed ragged and lacking in polish, the fervor is so great that I wouldn’t have it any other way. Redding sounds proud growling as he introduces “something new,” the song “Good to Me,” and tortured during “Just One More Day” in its two performances. Even when swaggering through a gritty, improvised Southern soul workout, Otis’ voice embodied heartache. Legend has it that Bob Dylan, an opening night guest, was so taken with Redding that he offered him new songs on the spot.
It’s hard to beat Live on the Sunset Strip for sheer power. Wally Heider’s recording sounds fine in Joe Tarantino’s new mastering. Only a surround-sound release would place you more in the action with the audibly-appreciative audience. The booklet offers a fine essay by Ashley Kahn, which draws upon an interview with Taj Mahal, whose band The Rising Sons opened for Redding during the Whisky stint. Complete discographical information would have been welcome, though; it still hasn’t been officially indicated which tracks have previously appeared where. (Unlike on the other 2 discs, though, all performances here are unedited.) A photo of an ironically tuxedo-clad Redding and his glittery ensemble in action at the Whisky is a nice touch, and there’s also a tray photo of the club’s exterior. The cover art is the least successful aspect of the package. While in the spirit of the psychedelic images that graced authentic Whisky posters of the era, its gaudy colors and lettering could easily find it mistaken for a budget knockoff release.
“See how hard we have to work to eat?” Redding teases the audience at one point during the third set before launching to an impassioned and fiery “Ole Man Trouble.” Far from ever appearing an effortless performer, Redding instead gave blood, sweat and tears in every performance. He may have passed away at a criminally young age in 1967, but releases like Live on the Sunset Strip see that it always remains “star time” for the preternaturally-talented vocalist, writer and performer.