Don't Fight The Feeling: The Complete Aretha Franklin & King Curtis Live At Fillmore West
By 1971, Aretha Franklin was the undisputed "Queen of Soul." yet, she had never recorded a proper live album, according to Atlantic Records producer and exec Jerry Wexler, who had signed Franklin to the label in 1966.
Between 1966 and 1971, Aretha recorded a string of R&B and blues hits for Atlantic including her signature song "Respect." She was an unparalled success, but by early 1971, she had suffered the breakup of a marriage, a rumored breakdown and struggled with other personal problems that kept her out of the Atlantic recording studios for much of 1969.
However, by 1970-71, Aretha had given birth to another child (her fourth son) and had re-emerged on the music scene, revitalized and ready to make new music. Although her name and records were fixtures in many black American homes, Wexler wanted to cross her over to mainstream audiences. He decided to record a live album with Franklin at the perfect crossover venue, San Francisco's Fillmore West, a small theater that played host to hippie or "longhair" audiences.
The Fillmore crowds often took in rock concerts by the likes of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix (both deceased by 1971), Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead. Wexler figured this would be the prime time to present Franklin's brand of gospel-fueled soul to the Fillmore's regulars.
Although the Fillmore was a smallish venue for Franklin, Wexler convinced her it would provide the right intimate setting for a live recording.
He was right. For three nights in March of 1971, Aretha played to enthusiastic audiences of white hippies, conservatives, blacks, Asians, men and women and just plain old Aretha junkies. the result was the album ARETHA LIVE AT FILLMORE WEST, released on Atlantic in May 1971.
The album became a best-selling recording and the exciting live album that Wexler had always wanted. It was much better than "Aretha In Paris," a previous live recording from 1968 that found Aretha backed by a traditional and sometimes stiff sounding show band.
For the Fillmore dates, Wexler persuaded Aretha to replace her show band with a funked up group led by super-saxophonist King Curtis (Curtis Ousley). Curtis (who also wrote many of the arrangements for the Fillmore dates) also recruited the musicians, which included Truman Thomas (elec. piano), Bernard "Pretty" Purdie (Drums), Pancho Morales (Congas), Cornell Dupree (guitarist) and bassist Jerry Jemmott. To this ensemble, dubbed "the Kingpins," Curtis added special guest organist Billy Preston and the Memphis Horns.
The result was a funky band ready to groove and get down with "the Queen." As I said before, some of the music recorded at the Fillmore West was released as two seperate Atlantic albums, one by Aretha, and the other by King Curtis, "Live At Fillmore," released just three months after Aretha's Fillmore set. Both of those albums have been expanded and remastered for the digital age.
The result is "DON'T FIGHT THE FEELING: THE COMPLETE ARETHA FRANKLIN AND KING CURTIS LIVE AT THE FILLMORE WEST," a four disc, limited-edition set that includes 61 tracks, 42 of them previously unreleased.
If you are an Aretha completist, like me, it's absolutely essential.
You get to hear most of the music recorded by Aretha, King Curtis and the Kingpins over the course of the three night engagement.
"DON'T FIGHT THE FEELING..." includes both of the original live albums by Curtis and Aretha, as well as songs that were edited from the 1971 albums. Fans will get to hear Aretha tackling Jimmy Webb's "Mixed Up Girl," a tune previously recorded by singer Thelma Houston and perhaps performed only occasionally in Franklin's shows around this period. Also included are live renditions of three of Aretha's biggest hits "Call Me" "Share Your Love With Me," and "You're All I Need to Get By," which were edited from the original Fillmore album.
For the Fillmore dates, Aretha also interpreted songs composed by mainstream rock and pop musicians/songwriters Paul Simon, Stephen Stills and David Gates, and this set includes her soulful readings of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "Make It With You," and "Love The One You're With."
One of the highlights of Aretha's original Fillmore live album was an extended reprise of one of her own compositions "Spirit In the Dark," in which she was joined by The Genius, Ray Charles ("He's the right Reverend, ain't he?," Aretha is heard asking the Fillmore crowd at one point...) Their historic workout on "Spirit" runs almost 20 minutes. And, as it was on the 1971 recording, "Spirit" remains as one of the high points of "DON'T FIGHT THE FEELING."
The liner notes reveal that Charles had to be convinced to let Atlantic release his portion of the show. He had to be convinced that his impromptu performance lived up to his high standards.
And does it ever! It's one of the few times Aretha and Ray were featured on a commercial recording together. They would perform on television together.
The only drawback to the four disc set is that some of the tunes become repeatative because they are repeated on the discs. So you get to hear Aretha tear into another of her classics, "Dr. Feelgood," at least three times. However, each time she does something a little bit different (Aretha never sings a song the same way). In addition to the often inspired bits of singing, you also get to hear a few missed cues, some strained notes, a crack in a lyric, and a few missteps by the band (usually the horns) and Aretha's backup singers. For example, each time the band launehed into "You're All I Need...," the singers, billed here as the "Sweethearts of Soul" (Brenda Bryant, Margeret Branch (Aretha's cousins) and Pat Smith) missed their opening cue. Not once mind you, but each time the song was performed. It's hilarious. but the kind of thing that makes a live performance so fascinating.
Turns out, even Aretha was surprised by the reception she received from the Fillmore crowds. She's heard telling them: "You have been much more than I could have ever expected..." and she promises them that they will hear more of her work wirh King Curtis. Sadly, this was not to be, for Curtis was eventually murdered, stabbed to death outside his New York apartment in August, 1971. Fittingly, this four disc set also includes some of his last recordings and serves as a fitting tribute to his memory.