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King Curtis
August 15, 2008 6:35 AM   Subscribe

So, there was this little rock band from England, and they got pretty famous and all, so famous that they initiated the era of stadium concerts, back in '65, at a little place in Queens called Shea. But there was an opening act that night, led by a sax-blowin' fellow name of King Curtis, and he kicked total muhfukkin ass, and it wasn't even with his baddest band! You can hear them here. Jump Back!

Opening their show with a appropriately energetic version of the Ray Charles chestnut What'd I Say, Curtis and his band turned in a fine performance that evening, for the sweaty young throngs packed into Shea Stadium to see the most famous band in the world. Although the audio quality is less than sterling, here is their short set in its entirety (audio only).

From the same live TV studio performance as "Memphis Soul Stew" (under the here link of this FPP), here's Ridin' Thumb and Soul Serenade, albeit with weirdly squashed video.

But let's go back a few years, to the tune where Curtis first really made his mark: as the saxophonist on the Coaster's infectious Yakety Yak, which, by the way, was the inspirstion for Boots Randolph's famous Yakety Sax.

Here's a soulful little number called Foot Pattin'. Video is another one of those that just shows the record spinning. Nice.

Like Booker T and the MGs, Curtis and his band recorded instrumental versions of lots of 60s R&B hits, as well as rock numbers made famous by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Procol Harum, etc. Here are three: I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Whole Lotta Love (with absurdly unrelated video here), A Whiter Shade of Pale (Again, what's with the video? Stupid...).

And here's Champion Jack Dupree with a slow blues, joined by King Curtis. And look who's there in the front row, at the beginning of the clip: that's Aretha! Which brings us to another point: King Curtis was Aretha's musical director and backing band leader in 1971, the year he was tragically murdered in the hallway of his apartment building on the Upper West Side of New York City.

And, finally, hey, let's give the drummer some. The man who put the seriously funky percussive underpinning to much of King Curtis' work: the great Bernard "Pretty" Purdie. While we're talking Kingpins, let's not forget the great guitarist Cornell Dupree, either, eh?
posted by flapjax at midnite (25 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
I think that King Curtis' best band was when he was playing at the Fillmore with Aretha Franklin, and Ray Charles came up on stage for 'Spirit in the Dark.'
posted by box at 7:07 AM on August 15, 2008


I think that King Curtis' best band was when he was playing at the Fillmore with Aretha Franklin,

That was the same basic rhythm section as what's described as the "baddest" in the FPP, and linked under here, as well as a couple more clips from the [more inside] section of this post. It's the "dream team" Kingpins lineup, that is, Jerry Jemmott (bass), Bernard Purdie (drums), Cornell Dupree (guitar) and Truman Thomas (keys). Billy Preston (many know him from his guesting on the Beatles' Let It Be) was also on that gig.

I also forgot to mention that Curtis had just done some session work for John Lennon's Imagine release, just before his murder in 1971.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:21 AM on August 15, 2008


Word. And there isn't a lot of Preston on the original albums, but he's got a lot more presence on that amazing Rhino Handmade box set.

Hey, flapjax, you're a good person to ask this question. I've been feeling lately like 'My Sweet Lord' is the most popular Beatles cover among soul/r&b artists. Do you think that's true, and, if so, how come?
posted by box at 7:28 AM on August 15, 2008


Do you think that's true, and, if so, how come?

Well, it might be because it has a bit of a gospel flavor and is almost indistinguishable from "He's So Fine". A judge agreed with that assessment, by the way. Harrison was successfully sued for plagiarism.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:34 AM on August 15, 2008


The gospel flavor, I think, is a big part of it. I mean, Percy Faith and Edwin Starr and Billy Preston aren't singing about Lord Krishna.
posted by box at 7:38 AM on August 15, 2008


(Here's a Chiffons best-of that has 'He's So Fine' as the first song and 'My Sweet Lord' as the last one.)
posted by box at 7:42 AM on August 15, 2008


Jemmott & Purdie - man. We should all have such rhythm sections.
posted by Jofus at 7:44 AM on August 15, 2008


As I recall (from the anthology), the Beatles were p*ssed because they missed the King Curtis show.
posted by kgasmart at 7:48 AM on August 15, 2008


almost indistinguishable from "He's So Fine"

Nothing to do with the original thread - and a lovely one it is - but this made me think of swedish mod/indie popsters Brainpool. As we all know, "My Sweet Lord" is almost indistinguishable from "He's So Fine," but they took it one step further, ie they turned "He's So Fine" and "My Sweet Lord" into a medley. Here is a fun clip (at least it's fun if you were into swedish indie in the mid nineties) from a swedish new year show where Brainpool preformed said medley. And who can be seen in the "gospel choir"? Yes, that's Per Gessle of Roxette, no less!

posted by soundofsuburbia at 8:41 AM on August 15, 2008


Speaking of mix-ups with infamous and rockin' English teen combos, an entry in Robert Fripp's journal (as first seen publicly in The Young Person's Guide to King Crimson) states:
MAY 2 1969: Booked as a soul band by mistake at a dance [in] Bristol supporting Geno Washington. [21st Century] Schizoid Man clears the floor.

Fripp goes no further, but I've always assumed that some promoter had mistaken the up-and-coming King Crimson for the established King Curtis.

Now beat. . . . well!
Da-ah da-da-da DUNT DAAAH!!
posted by Herodios at 8:56 AM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


For the interested, a good quality torrent of the ABC documentary of the Beatles show at Shea is widely seeded. There's a ton of coverage of the acts that preceded the fabs.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:02 AM on August 15, 2008


This is fantastic stuff.

It should also be pointed out that Aretha herself had some years earlier (1967) recorded my personal favorite version of that fantastic song that you link to King Curtis playing, "Soul Serenade." It's one of the highlights (well, one of the songs, since there really aren't any songs that aren't highlights) on that fantastic album of hers, I never loved a man the way that I love you.
posted by koeselitz at 9:09 AM on August 15, 2008


Those Aretha Franklin Atlantic albums, wow. From I Never Loved a Man the Way That I Love You to Amazing Grace (with, among others, Soul '69 and Young, Gifted and Black in between)--in my mind, the second most impressive string of albums in the history of soul music. (Stevie Wonder, from Where I'm Coming From to Secret Life of Plants, comes in first).
posted by box at 10:21 AM on August 15, 2008


Geez, Flapjax, this is an incredibly great post. I'd never heard of King Curtis before this.
posted by ferdydurke at 10:52 AM on August 15, 2008


Don't forget his influence on a up-and-coming young guitarist named Duane Allman, who was his sideman on several songs on Atlantic and Stax. A small amount of digging through their concerts can find their cover of Soul Serenade.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 11:49 AM on August 15, 2008


My fave is King Curtis doing Procul Harum's "Whiter Shade of Pale" from the opening scene of Withnail and I.
posted by vronsky at 12:44 PM on August 15, 2008


Hope this doesn't pre-empt somebody's good front page post, but it seems like a good place to note that Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler, who produced King Curtis among many others, died today at 91.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 1:25 PM on August 15, 2008


Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler, who produced King Curtis among many others, died today at 91.

Aww, man, Wexler definitely deserves an obit post here, and I hope that if someone makes one, they do it in such a way as to properly introduce people to him. Wexler was a huge figure, a remarkable man, and singularly responsible for an astonishing amount of GREAT music getting recorded and into our ears.

Great quote from Wilson Pickett, from that linked NYTimes obit:

“How could he understand what was inside of black people like that?” Pickett asked in the documentary. “But Jerry Wexler did.”
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:12 PM on August 15, 2008


F@M -- go at it
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 5:36 PM on August 15, 2008


Is there anyone around here who can explain why when I read "King Curtis" I immediately thought of a (British?) psychobilly band? Was there such a band with the same name?
posted by bunglin jones at 6:07 PM on August 15, 2008


Love me some Jerry Jemmott.
posted by Wolof at 6:28 PM on August 15, 2008


F@M -- go at it.

Sorry, Flanders, but I can't! Twenty four hour lockout still in effect! Surely someone else will, though.

Love me some Jerry Jemmott.

Yeah, he's damn good, and didn't he just look so effing cool in that Memphis Soul Stew link?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:37 PM on August 15, 2008


Rolling Stone has this Wexler playlist of his favorite productions. My favorite is 'In the Midnight Hour,' but, geez, it's all pretty great.
posted by box at 6:55 PM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


> I mean, Percy Faith and Edwin Starr and Billy Preston aren't singing about Lord Krishna.

Maybe not, but here's a Percy Faith LP with a great version of "Enter The Dragon" (self-link).
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:24 AM on August 16, 2008


Well, heck, nobody made that Wexler FPP! So, I just made one. Would've liked to have had more links, but ran out of time. I hope that folks will add links to Wexler-related music in their comments.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:23 AM on August 17, 2008


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