Conceived as a black Woodstock in '72, an act of healing seven years after LA's Watts district had been all but burned down in race riots to the chanting of "burn, baby, burn", Wattstax was also, in truth, a masterful idea for a showcase of all the Stax acts of the time. Still, hell of a concert—112,000 people watched seven hours of Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, The Bar-Kays, Rufus Thomas etc, and a legend was born.
Conceived as a black Woodstock in ’72, an act of healing seven years after LA’s Watts district had been all but burned down in race riots to the chanting of “burn, baby, burn”, Wattstax was also, in truth, a masterful idea for a showcase of all the Stax acts of the time. Still, hell of a concert?112,000 people watched seven hours of Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, The Bar-Kays, Rufus Thomas etc, and a legend was born. As well as the movie, there have been various recorded versions since, but now those lovely people who care even more than you or I about such matters have trawled through the original tapes and compiled a new three-CD set.
To squeeze the juicy stuff in, they’ve made some tough decisions. As most of the music from Hayes and Albert King is available on separate releases, they’ve cut them cruelly. And the absence of Isaac’s storming set, apart from “Shaft”, is a big loss. On the plus side, this means they’re able to extend The Staple Singers’ section and bring in one or two subs. Of which, Louise McCord’s “Better Get A Move On” blisters the paint from the walls.
From a Rev Jesse Jackson-preached intro to some Richard Pryor rants, from The Bar-Kays’ underrated “Son Of Shaft” to David Porter’s plaintive “Can’t See You When I Want To”, this is exhilarating stuff. The well-known songs?Mel & Tim’s “Backfield In Motion”, Carla Thomas’ “B-A-B-Y”, Rufus’ “Funky Chicken”?are fired up by the occasion; The Staples take you there. Frederick Knight (“I’ve Been Lonely For So Long”), William Bell, Johnnie Taylor and Eddie Floyd knock on wood. The gospel is true as an arrow.
Forty-seven tracks from the festival and film, 17 previously unreleased. Hey, sure beats a bunch of stoned hippies sitting around with flowers in their hair. Turn yourself loose.