Aretha Franklin & King Curtis
"Live at The Fillmore West!"
Rhino Records 4 CD Box Set
Goldmine Magazine May 2005

What a great concept to bundle these two wonderful recordings together! Plus- forty-two unreleased tracks. In the days of vinyl, I wore out both of my copies, but it was not until three years ago when Ray Charles author Michael Lydon was at WFDU educating me that Aretha’s and King Curtis’s recordings were done at the same time. Duh, maybe that is why there is the exact same incredible rhythm section (Cornell Dupree, Jerry Jemmott., Bernard Pretty Purdie, special guest Billy Preston, Pancho Morales, Thurman Thomas, The Memphis Horns, and the late great King Curtis) plus Ray Charles’ cameo on Aretha’s “Spirit in the Dark” more on that later……….

Aretha- a superstar in ’71 was fetching $20,000 per night, not financially feasible given the size of the Fillmore West. But co-producer Jerry Wexler wanted to capture Aretha in a cozy setting, and Atlantic Records agreed to underwrite the entire weekend. Good move, as Aretha’s Live at the Fillmore West went gold. Aretha was quoted saying “Live at the Fillmore West was a highlight of my career.” And King Curtis’s unfortunately was his last, but this recording was his all-time most successful seller, logging in at number nine on the Billboard R&B charts. Dave Marsh gave it four stars in Rolling Stone Magazine, saying this is “King Curtis at his very best.”

There are many highlights included within and the musicianship is impeccable, the intensity level is at times unimaginable, as this crew of veterans was on fire throughout the weekend!

Looking back, it is interesting to listen to the songs evolve, as there are multiple versions of the songs from the three nights of recording. “Memphis Soul Stew” for example was performed on all three nights, and even though the final nights version was the one that was used for the original LP/CD, the earlier versions all had interesting yet unique feelings and sentiments. Overdubs were added on all the originally released recordings, which gave them that extra shine. But one thing is certain- Rhino Records has unearthed and exquisitely captured an historic document of perhaps one of the finest examples of live/recorded music of all time.

I love this box set, but if there is no other reason to purchase this recording, you have to hear Aretha & Brother Ray work out for nineteen minutes and twenty-four seconds! Aretha yells to the audience “I’ve discovered Brother Ray” not quite- but that night she did, as Ray joins the Queen of Soul for a truly magical performance, not just by Ray & Aretha, but the entire band is propulsive, mesmerizing and captivating. Jerry Wexler was later quoted “wow, my two idols recorded together!” I believe this is the only time Brother Ray and Aretha ever recorded together, talk about Soul history.

Definitely “Don’t Fight the Feelin” and get yourself a copy of this limited edition release, as only five thousand will be available.

Happy listening,

Bob Putignano
President NY Blues & Jazz, and radio
host @ WFDU’s, “Sounds of Blue”