Saturday, May 22, 2010

Wattstax - Los Angeles meets Memphis

On August 20th, 1972 the entire Stax records roster gathered in L.A. Stadium to collaborate on what would come to be known as "the black Woodstock". Stax honcho Al Bell had been planning a concert in L.A. to commemorate the lives lost in the Watts riots seven years before. In line with his philosophy that a corporate entity must give back to the community that supports it, The Wattstax project could not only raise money for the Watts summer festival fund but also publicize his line up of artists on the west coast.

Soon the idea ballooned into a feature length documentary overseen by acclaimed director/producer Mel Stuart and captured by an all black crew. Featuring Jesse Jackson and Richard Pryor before either of them had achieved global success, the Wattstax film is a document of a time when black film, music, and politics had finally come to forefront in the public consciousness.

After languishing in vaults for thirty years due to legal entanglements, Wattstax was finally restored and released in 2003. The special edition DVD features performances by Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Luther Ingram, Johnnie Taylor, The Emotions, Rufus "the world's oldest teenager" Thomas, Carla Thomas, Albert King, and many more. Audio commentaries include Isaac Hayes, Al Bell, Mel Stuart, and members of the various groups that participated. Needless to say, this one gets my highest recommendation.

Rufus Thomas steals the show with a set that'll fry your eggs

Bar-Kays bass player James Alexander -

"I mean, all you have to do is give me a stage and it's on. Give me a stage and a good drummer and hey..."

"A song cannot happen if the bass and drums are not tight. I mean, the bass and drums are the foundation of the band so they have to be happenin'. Those things have to gel. I mean, plain and simple, musically, we were just trying to have a funky good time."

Isaac Hayes on stage at Wattstax - It was his 30th birthday and the pinnacle of his success.

Johnnie Taylor sho' nuff doin' it in a club in L.A.

Rev. Jesse "the country preacher" Jackson's call to empowerment "I am somebody!"

Rance Allen's standout performance, "Lyin' on the Truth"

The Staples Singers  - Wattstax features footage of Mavis and Pop Staples eating local BBQ in the limo.

Rev. Jesse Jackson and Stax head Al Bell

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