Various Artists: Soul’d Out: The Complete Wattstax Collection Album Review

From their plane back to Memphis, the Astors could see the fires. Four days earlier, you might have seen the group performing their hit record “Candy” on the Los Angeles syndicated TV show. shivaree. The appearance was part of a media blitz masterminded by Stax Records co-founder Estelle Axton and popular local DJ Nathaniel “Magnificent” Montague. In August 1965, the label shipped a large portion of its roster to the West Coast; the Stax Revue was capped off by a two-day booth at the 5/4 Ballroom in the Watts neighborhood of South Los Angeles.

After Saturday’s show, a teenage fan named Jacqui Jacquette invited Stax star Carla Thomas to dinner at her house and then on a tour of Watts. During the tour, she told Thomas about the people killed by the LAPD and then took her to a community meeting led by her cousin, Tommy Jacquette, who was teaching passive resistance as a life-saving measure to the victims. teenagers. The following Wednesday, a violent LAPD traffic stop sparked a full-scale riot; 34 people would die during the six-day Watts Uprising. Any cultural impact that Stax hoped to have was dissipated by its jet exhaust. On the ground, the people of Watts chanted the catchphrase from Magnificent Montague: Burn baby burn!

When Stax returned to Los Angeles, it was not as a guest, but as a transplant. Newly independent and in full swing under the leadership of record label president Al Bell, plus an astonishing star turn from writer-producer Isaac Hayes, Stax opened a West Coast branch in 1972 and began looking to expand into movies. A speech on the back of the napkin (“Black Woodstock”) quickly turned into a bold event: Wattstax ’72, the cornerstone of the Watts Summer Festival. (The festival was meant to commemorate the uprising; Tommy Jacquette served as executive director from 1966 until his death in 2009.) The day-long concert featured more than two dozen acts from the Stax roster, capped off by a performance by Hayes. Tickets were priced at one dollar when not given away; organizers would note with pride that the estimated 112,000 attendees represented the second-largest gathering of black Americans in history, after the March on Washington. It was an absolute triumph, and Stax commemorated it by issuing the wattstax film and two soundtracks the following year.

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Yet even taken together, these releases told an incomplete and sometimes misleading story. Stax added crowd noise to studio cuts of the Staple Singers and Eddie Floyd, then included them in Wattstax: the living word as “live” singles. The film had to drop Hayes’s opening performance of “Theme From Axisafter MGM raised a contract point; director Mel Stuart responded by filming Hayes and the band performing a new song on a Hollywood soundstage, then splicing the footage into the final edit. A host of hitmakers, including Johnnie Taylor and the Emotions, were dropped from the lineup due to time constraints; the ever-industrious Stax booked them make-up dates at Los Angeles’ Summit Club in the fall, then seeded select performances on the second soundtrack. Over the next few decades, Stax released portions of select Wattstax and Summit sets piecemeal; in 2003, a cut wattstax with restored performances by Hayes (including “Axis”) dropped along with an expanded soundtrack that boasted a CD’s worth of previously unreleased material.

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