Earlier this year, Omnivore Recordings released a pair of albums from Richard Pryor, the rare artist for whom "legendary" is entirely apt and not at all hyperbolic. Pryor (1940-2005) pushed the envelope in life as well as in art - on film, television, and records. Following the expanded reissues of his eponymous 1968 debut album and 1971's Craps (After Hours), Omnivore has turned its attentions to another rarity from the five-time Grammy Award winner and pioneering writer-actor-comedian.
Live at The Comedy Store, 1973 was recorded at the venerable West Hollywood club and onetime location of the popular Ciro's nightspot. Tape rolled on the evenings of October 29 and 30, the first two of four nights Pryor would play there. This wasn't the tame comedian of a decade earlier; instead, the performer onstage was the confident, boundary-breaking comic who had begun to find his own, original voice in 1967. Cory Frye, in his liner notes for the new release, indicates that the Comedy Store stand was a warm-up of sorts for future engagements at Washington, DC's Kennedy Center and San Francisco's Soul Train Club. The latter would produce Pryor's Grammy Award-winning, chart-topping 1974 album That N----r's Crazy, solidifying both his fame and his willingness to speak freely and frankly onstage. Frye also points out that these shows were never meant for commercial release. But while Pryor was trying out new material, his already-impeccable timing was on full display.
He's at the peak of his powers on such bits as "Street Corner Wino," "Wino and Junkie," and "Fighting." The latter would become "The Back Down" on the '74 LP which closed with "Wino and Junkie." Pryor also revisited material from Craps ("Masturbating," "Religion," "The Line-Up") and topically tackled "Nixon," "Cops," and "Black Movie Stars." His material is both completely of its time and yet timeless as his observations still retain relevance today.
Live at The Comedy Store, 1973 was first issued by Shout! Factory as a promotional CD exclusive for website purchasers of the label's No Pryor Restraint: Life in Concert box set. For this reissue, Omnivore adds five bonus tracks to the original 14 (the last of which cuts off due to the tape running out). These include additional Comedy Store routines on "Jim Brown," "Death," "N----rs and Italians," "Black Films," and whether "Jesus Saves" plus an edit of "Street Corner Wino." These bonus tracks were previously issued on past Pryor box sets.
Michael Graves has remastered the album, and Greg Allen has designed the eight-page booklet which contains Frye's detailed liner notes (helpfully explaining the lineage of many of the routines, and where else Pryor recorded them). Richard Pryor was a master at challenging his audience's preconceived notions of what was and wasn't appropriate to banter about; one can hear the occasional groans as well as the loud guffaws throughout. Much of the material he performed nearly fifty years ago would still prove controversial today. His Live at the Comedy Store 1973 isn't for those who might be offended by strong language or provocative imagery; indeed, it revels in its outrageousness while reminding the listener that the funniest, most keenly-observed, and indeed, most powerful comedy can sometimes also be the most uncomfortable.
Live at The Comedy Store, 1973 arrives from Omnivore today. You'll find the track listing and order links below.
- Street Corner Wino
- Wino and Junkie
- Black Movie Stars
- The Line-Up
- Celebrities in the Audience
- N----rs and Italians
- Jim Brown (Alternate Version)
- Black Films
- Jesus Saves
- Street Corner Wino (Evolution/Revolution Edit)
Tracks 1-14 from Live at the Comedy Store, Hollywood, CA, Shout! Factory CD PRO-00072, 2013
Track 15 from ...And It's Deep, Too!: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings (1968-1992), Warner Bros./Rhino 76655, 2000
Tracks 16-20 from Evolution/Revolution: The Early Years (1966-1974), Rhino 78490, 2005