The Stax-Volt record label in 1967 was in its raging prime. The movie theater-turned-recording studio in Memphis was turning out some amazing sounds that easily rivaled Motown for supremacy in R&B. This video captures five of the label’s hottest artists (and one outlier) recorded at an auditorium in Oslo, Norway, in front of a group of local hipsters who obviously came to party. A lineup that features Booker T. & the MGs, the Mar-Keys, Arthur Conley (who actually recorded for Atco), Eddie Floyd, Sam & Dave and Otis Redding guaranteed there would be no weak spots on the bill.
For fans of Southern soul, this is the real deal.
Seeing these artists in the context of a vintage TV show that required lip syncing is fine, but watching them in concert — a rare opportunity — takes the music to a much higher plane. For fans of Southern soul, this is the real deal. Here’s the scorecard:
Booker T. & the MGs were the Stax Records house band in addition to cranking out a series of records on their own. Lord knows when they found time to sleep, but in addition to backing up the other acts (with the addition of the Mar-Keys), they were themselves a hit machine. They sail through their 1962 single “Green Onions” plus the one-chord monster “Red Beans & Rice.” Keyboardist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and drummer Al Jackson are skilled musicians, yet remain exciting enough that their instrumentals never fade into the background. The riffs are as up-front as any vocalist, and the audience hangs on every lick, passage and riff played.
The Mar-Keys had several different lineups and identities. When their first hit, “Last Night,” arrived in 1961, the musicians that recorded it weren’t necessarily the same men who made appearances. For this European tour, the Mar-Keys were essentially the Memphis Horns — trumpeter Wayne Jackson, and saxophonists Andrew Love and Joe Arnold — all of whom kick up the excitement level while performing “Philly Dog” and “Grab This Thing.”
At age 21, Arthur Conley was just getting his first taste of fame with his hit “Sweet Soul Music.” And although Otis Redding’s protege had been performing for some time, he possesses the giddy, unjaded energy of a kid happy to be living in the moment. He’s the right vocalist to warm up the audience.
Eddie Floyd, who was as experienced a songwriter as he was a singer, comes across as a bit more controlled. His big hits included “Knock on Wood,” “I Never Found a Girl” and “California Girl.” He also penned “634-5789” and “Ninety-Nine & A Half Won’t Do” for Wilson Pickett. His authority is felt, particularly performing one of his other big hits, “Raise Your Hand.”
Sam Moore’s intensity, coupled with Dave Prater’s low-key simmer, set a new standard for male duos in the mid-‘60s.
There was a very good reason why Sam & Dave spawned many imitators and knockoffs during their time in the spotlight. Sam Moore’s intensity, coupled with Dave Prater’s low-key simmer, set a new standard for male duos in the mid-‘60s. Their stage show, complete with elastic moves, proved every bit as jolting as their records. Indeed, their “Double Dynamite” nickname was not an accident, with the duo being as smooth on their feet as they were rough on their voices. They were peaking in their careers, approaching the point where they could do a short set featuring several hits consecutively. That is exactly what we get with the four songs here.
Otis Redding allegedly hated having to follow Sam & Dave because they made him work that much harder. This worked to everybody’s advantage: He earned that headliner spot, and no one left the venue disappointed. This may have been the most successful year of Reddings’ life, with his music taking new directions and his career opening up to new opportunities (his famed show at the Monterey Pop Festival was only two months away). While he had a rep for passionate ballads, his entire set here is purely uptempo. Knowing that Sam & Dave raised the bar, Redding hits the stage at hyper speed, starting with “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” before cruising through “My Girl,” “Shake,” “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and the finale, “Try a Little Tenderness,” with a false ending or two that Redding and the band milk like a barnyard cow.