Aretha and King Curtis Comments
by Bob Putignano
Goldmine Magazine May 2005
Musicians, authors, and Atlantic record label comments on: King Curtis & Aretha Franklin’s “Live at the Fillmore West” 1971, originally released on Atlantic Records.
With the release of Rhino Records four CD box set “Don’t Fight the Feeling” of Aretha’s and King Curtis’s performances from the Fillmore West, which was originally issued as two separate releases, and now includes every song from the original LP’s, plus forty-two previously unreleased tracks, I thought it would be interesting to track down musicians and associates who were connected to this historic event. I was able to get hold of musicians Billy Preston, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Jerry Jemmott, Cornell Dupree, author Michael Lydon, and Atlantic Records executive- Joel Dorn, and here is what they had to say.
Bernard Purdie probably said it best as he described the weekend Fillmore events as: “Magical, and at times with all the energy from the music in the room- at times The Fillmore West seemed to levitate!”
When I mentioned this levitation concept thought from Bernard Purdie to Cornell Dupree, and Billy Preston they both whole-heartedly agreed.
Billy Preston went on to tell me stories about how he remembers driving to the San Francisco’s Fillmore in his Bentley, and how the music of that weekend was often overpowering, with the highlight being when Aretha called out for Brother Ray Charles for a nineteen- minute reprise of “Spirit in the Dark.” “I had a great ride to Frisco from L.A. San Francisco was always a hip music city and the hippies were already on to Aretha and King Curtis. It was a great band, Purdie, Cornell, the Memphis Horns, etc.” When I mentioned to Billy that I felt that I could really feel the band kicking in over and over on the recording, he slyly chuckled, with just a, “he, he, he.” Billy wanted me to mention that he is also working on a new Eric Clapton CD as we speak. And that he is about to release a tribute CD to the Beatles on his web site, www.BillyPreston.net.
Cornell Dupree recalls that the Tower of Power opened the gigs, then it was The Memphis Horns, followed by King Curtis’s Kingpins, and Aretha closed the evening’s events. “Man, Aretha was incredible. There were many bottles consumed amongst other things, you got so high on stage from what the hippie kids were smoking too, which gave us waves of good feelings, and the groove, it was a magical time. You know I still listen to those records to this day, and they always give me goose bumps. Purdie is right- the room did levitate! I also remember hanging out with Carlos Santana, man everyone was there, what a great scene!
Jerry Jemmont told me, “King Curtis would always feel the band and the audience, so we would ride the wave of excitement with the anticipation of a "knock out" ending. In some instances this was just like any other night when we and Aretha got together to throw down, except that the audience was almost on the stage, and on their feet to interact with us. The way Aretha introduced Ray Charles and her leadership throughout the performance made Ray's spontaneous contribution spectacular as we took the "Spirit", to another level. As always it was those slow ballads that she sings that really knocked me out.” Jemmott has a new CD: JERRY JEMMOTT & SOULER ENERGY CD Now Available at http://www.jerryjemmott.com where they pay tribute to King Curtis, performing a new version of “Memphis Soul Stew.”
“Ray Charles: Man and Music”, “Rock/Folk: Portraits from the Rock ‘N Roll Pantheon” and “Flashbacks: Eyewitness Accounts of the Rock Revolution, 1964-1974” book author Michael Lydon was in attendance for all three nights, and sent me to a page taken from his1971 “Flashbacks” book: "Cornell Dupree plays guitar like an angel. Gangly and boyish, he's got a big grin and long fingers. All weekend I seldom saw him off the stage: he was the first to start playing, the last to stop--except perhaps for bassist Jerry Jermott, who is taller and more somber. King Curtis, as bandleader, was often in conference with arranger Arif Mardin or Bill Graham, but he too was playing every available minute. So was drummer Bernard Purdie, when he wasn't talking with pretty girls. King Curtis and the Kingpins were men ready to make music at a moment's notice, falling into it as smoothly as sleep. They smiled a lot, particularly organist Billy Preston,
who never showed bad temper, and got along together with a male camaraderie that was sure and relaxed. This was a gig and a good one. They worked it the best they knew, but the work was play, and they could whistle on the job. "
Joel Dorn who was at Atlantic Records when the two Fillmore West LP’s came out told me: “the most important thing was utilizing King Curtis as King knew how to build a band, and all the musicians respected Curtis, that is why Curtis got the call. There is no question in my mind that King Curtis was unique unto the music business that way.”
So there you have it, a glimpse from those who were on stage, in the Fillmore West audience, and at the label who originally issued King Curtis’s & Aretha Franklin’s “Live at the Fillmore West.
I hope everyone enjoys this article as much as I did assembling it. Talking to those who recalled the magical three nights that took place at the Fillmore West in 1971 was a great experience for me, and I enjoyed hearing everyone’s obvious love and excitement when we spoke.
Radio Host WFDU’s “Sounds of Blue”
President of the NY Blues and Jazz Society