It,s March already folks and in another month or two we will soon be experiencing warm weather. Being a video collector of soul music, these are my top 3 picks of the Greatest Soul Music Concerts on film of all time.
1. JAMES BROWN: LIVE AT THE BOSTON GARDENS (1968)
Before he became known as the Godfather of Soul, James Brown was known as "Soul Brother #1" and this dynamic show shows him at the height of his career in his prime. The night after Dr. King was assassinated, JB and Mayor Kevin White agreed to televise the scheduled concert, hoping that it would keep peace in the city of Boston. The streets were eerily quiet as people stayed home glued to their tv sets watching the first full televised James Brown concert ever shown on live tv.
Bobby Byrd, Emcee Maceo Parker, and the lovely Miss Marva Whitney, along with the "Hardest Working Man In Show Business" put on a rousing performance lasting well over 2 hours. A show so hot that it was rerun on tape after the live show ended. The stunning highlight was near the finale of the show was when scores of Black youths stormed the stage to touch their hero and the Boston police began to force them back, it looked that everything was about to be destroyed in one fell swoop.
But... JAMES BROWN took control, exhibiting his amazing influence on the throng and it ACTUALLY WORKED. Soul Brother #1 stopped the band and finally got them to leave the stage so he could finish the show. His third appearance on stage that night, singing, sweating and dancing up a storm and there is NOT EVEN A HINT OF TIREDNESS OR OUT OF BREATH! A true testament to his stamina, fitness (being a former boxer before embarking on a singing career) and will power.
The Secret Service figured that anyone who could stop a riot singlehandedly, had too much power, especially a BLACK entertainer and set up heavy surveillance on Mister Dynamite,s activities. No wonder James Brown was put on the cover of LOOK magazine after this show with the title, "IS THIS THE MOST IMPORTANT MAN IN BLACK AMERICA?" Not officially available but heavily bootlegged show may see an official release sometime this year. This is definitely my #1 pick of the 5 most important Black concert videos of all time.
2. WATTSTAX (1972)
Called the "BLACK WOODSTOCK", this concert documentary delivers on ALL fronts. From the setting of the massive stage at the Oakland Coliseum, to the arrival of the performers by plane, bus, and limo. From the backstreets, alleyways and stoops, to the barbershops and hair salons. From the people of all walks of life, to the dress and language of the times. From the vibrant spiritual energy of the Black church, to a packed nightclub, from raw first hand accounts of life witnessed by Watts residents, to the 100,000 strong filled football coliseum.
Some of the greatest filmed performances include The Emotions belting out a gospel tune in a small packed spirit-fille church, blues artist Little Milton sitting by a campfire with guitar in hand, Luther Ingram poised on stage, backed by a soulful band with female background singers, and Johnny Taylor sweating and gyrating in a crowded nightclub as the pimps and players arrive on the scene.
Reverend Jesse Jackson, sporting a full afro, leads the vast throng at the football field in his "Sieze The Time" speech. Richard Pryor banters his blue humor before a off camera crew. Rufus Thomas, known as the "Clown Prince of Soul", shows everyone how to do the "Funky Chicken" & "The Breakdown" as he urges to crowd to get out on the field and dance. Black Soul-rock group the Barkays turn up the heat with their flashy funky outfits while performing their big monster hit, "Son Of Shaft". "Black Moses" Issac Hayes, sporting his trademark gold chains and dark sunglasses, turns out the show,s finale with the "Theme From Shaft".
Other notables include: blues master Albert King, rare stage performance by gospel great Jimmy Jones, the Staple Singers, and Kim Weston. Ted Lange (pre "Love Boat" days) and the actor who played "Woody" (Aunt Ester,s husband on "Sanford & Son") are among the cast of characters who reflect on the daily living and struggles (abet humorously) in the black community. Blacks from all walks of life are shown speaking their minds on past, present and future events.
So if you are looking for a great addition for your collection, Wattstax has celebrated its 20th anniversary release and is available in 2 disc remastered form
including Albert King,s and Issac Hayes extended versions of their performances.
3. SAVE THE CHILDREN (1973}
Fascinating filmed account of the Push 1973 Expo in Chicago. Many exceptional acts lending their talents for a very worthy cause. Jesse Jackson is a host on the show as well as Don Cornelius (host of Soul Train) with artists such as: Jerry Butler & Brenda Lee Eggar, The Ojays, Marvin Gaye, Nancy Wilson, Rev. James Cleveland, Curtis Mayfield, the Chi-lites.
Highlights of the show include the Jackson Five singing a medley of their hits, Nancy Wilson going on stage despite a bout with the flu and showing a real trooper spirit. Sammy Davis Jr., (who invoked their ire of many blacks because of the well-publicized photo of him hugging President Nixon) telling the throng that he won,t sing if they don,t want him there, and receiving shouts of encouragement. After belting out the song, "I Gotta Be Me", his eyes well up with tears as the audience rises to their feet with thunderous applause.
We need more releases of Black Historic film concerts; Pink Floyd, the Who, even U2 have made the rounds in the theaters, the latter in IMAX I believe. Wattstax and Save the Children both appeared in the neighborhood theaters about a year apart between 1972 & 1973. I will bet my last dollar that the re-release of these films, digitally remastered and put on the big screen again, would invoke moviegoers by the droves and really show "today,s generation" what real music talent was all about. Until then it,s video tapes and dvds. But we can dream, can,t we?