LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Johnnie Taylor, one of the greatest soul singers who ever lived, was at the peak of his game on September 23, 1972, when he sang to an effusive crowd at the now-defunct Summit Club in South Los Angeles. The show was captured on tape and will be reissued February 20 by Stax Records as Johnnie Taylor: Live at the Summit Club.
The live album, produced by Al Bell, the then-president of Stax Records, was recorded at the time of the historic two-day Wattstax concert at nearby Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The Wattstax bill was filled, so Stax put many of its artists into nearby clubs where they were taped and filmed.
As well as including his biggest hits ("Who's Making Love," Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone"), the album contains six previously unreleased tracks that emphasize the blues side of Taylor's repertoire. Label-mate Rufus Thomas said of Taylor in his introduction: When you speak of blues, this is a man who knows 'em from the letter A to the letter Z."
Taylor recorded eight straight Top 10 R&B hits, though by 1971 he had been eclipsed by Isaac Hayes and the Staple Singers as the label's top hitmakers. Eventually he moved from Stax to Columbia, where he enjoyed one more big hit, Disco Lady," before winding down his recording career at Malaco with steady work on the Chitlin' Circuit.
While this recording found Taylor was at the peak of his faculties, his band unfortunately was not in such top form. The musicians messed up again and again -- not so much that the audience really noticed, though Taylor did chastise them from time to time. The flaws and the way Taylor handled them without interrupting the flow make for fascinating -- and ultimately satisfying -- listening. The Arkansas-born vocalist considered himself a salesman of songs," and he wasn't about to allow adverse circumstances to prevent him from driving home the messages of six of his biggest hits (including two very different versions of Steal Away") and extended treatments of the blues songs Little Bluebird" and Hello Sundown." Six of the nine performances on the reissue, which was produced by Stuart Kremsky, are entirely new to disc.
Concord Music Group, which acquired the legendary Memphis label as part of its purchase of Fantasy Records in 2004, will also honor Stax's 50th year by releasing definitive collections, rare performances, unreleased tracks and more from the Memphis R&B imprint in deluxe new packages. Plans for digital releases, remixes and other projects are also in the works; the anniversary year's releases are slated to include more than 20 CDs and DVDs.
In addition, Concord Music Group will reactivate Stax this year as a dynamic new force in contemporary R&B music committed to the continuing the legacy of the original legendary label. The first new Stax signings are Isaac Hayes, Angie Stone and Soulive.