[JPL] A New PBS Special Revisits the Stax/Volt Revue ¹ s 1967 European Tour

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Sat Jan 3 13:17:39 EST 2009


January 3, 2009
A New PBS Special Revisits the Stax/Volt Revue¹s 1967 European Tour

Seeing the brash Southerners who forged Memphis soul music at Stax Records
must have been a startling experience for audiences on the 1967 Stax/Volt
Revue tour of Europe.

Dapper and raw, hard-working and audacious, rooted in gospel while exulting
in sensuality, Stax stars like Otis Redding and Sam & Dave were
song-and-dance men who knew how to bring audiences to their feet. Their band
‹ Booker T. and the M.G.¹s plus the Mar-Keys as the horn section ‹ was
racially integrated and musically unstoppable.

The black-and-white concert footage of ³Sweet Soul Music: Stax Live in
Europe 1967,² to be shown Monday at 8 p.m. on WLIW (Channel 21) and
nationwide on PBS in March, is a chance to see Stax¹s soul men at their
youthful peak; Redding would die in a plane crash later in 1967. The concert
also shows African-American culture raising a ruckus on staid foreign turf.

Stax Records did not choose timid singers. The tour lineup was all belters ‹
Redding, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd and Arthur Conley ‹ who bounced percussive
phrases off the band¹s unswerving beat. They were R&B troupers from an era
when performers didn¹t need to lip-sync when they danced. The Stax singers
commanded the stage with moves no choreographer taught them, and they didn¹t
rest until their audience became an ecstatic congregation.

The revue was videotaped for television on April 7, 1967, in Oslo. (The PBS
special is a shorter version of a DVD, ³Stax/Volt Revue: Live in Norway
1967,² which is available from the Stax Museum in Memphis, staxmuseum.org.)
The Norwegian audience, which gets generous camera time throughout, looks
earnestly appreciative as Booker T. and the M.G.¹s steam into ³Green
Onions,² with Steve Cropper flicking out vicious jabs of blues guitar. When
the singers take over, they don¹t settle for head-bobbing and hand-clapping
as a response. One after another, they knock themselves out. Just about
every song ratchets itself up, drops back down and then pushes toward a
double-time gospelly surge over the top.

Mr. Conley praises fellow soul singers in ³Sweet Soul Music,² twitching and
hopping across the stage, insisting that the audience call out names like
James Brown. Mr. Floyd, moving with a backwards, gliding step that looks
oddly balletic, revs up the crowd during ³Raise a Hand² until it swarms
toward the stage, to be restrained by uniformed security guards. Mr. Floyd
calls the men in uniform ³soldiers on the front line² before inviting them
to join in.

But they are only warm-ups for Sam & Dave and for Redding. Sam & Dave,
flaunting the contrast and blend between Sam Moore¹s pearly tenor and Dave
Prater¹s rugged baritone, volley vocal lines while they shimmy, twirl and
strut all over the place. One well-chosen camera shot, amid the otherwise
workmanlike direction of the old TV footage, shows the duo¹s dancing feet
alongside the synchronized steps of the Mar-Keys. During ³Soothe Me,² even
the TV crew succumbs to the frenzy; the camera starts swooping in and out,
as if Sam & Dave were singing ³Zoom Me.²

Redding would ³slosh through puddles of Sam & Dave¹s sweat to get out to the
stage,² says the trumpeter Wayne Jackson in an on-screen interview, ³and
then he would add a gallon of his own sweat to the lake.² Redding arrives
with a huge smile to sing about sorrow in ³Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song).² He
sounds plaintive and then exultant in ³My Girl,² accelerates into overdrive
for ³Shake,² matches Al Jackson¹s rat-a-tat drumming with stamping footwork
in ³Satisfaction² and carries ³Try a Little Tenderness² from bluesy concern
to soul catharsis.

To the bewilderment of the M.C., Redding struts offstage and returns again
and again and again, barking out the chorus while the band slams away and
the crowd seizes the chance to rush the stage. Moments later the show is
over, and the Norwegian audience decorously files out ‹ wondering, perhaps,
what had just hit it.

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