"Oh Me Oh My: Aretha Live in Philly"
Limited Edition of 7,500 copies
"Oh Me Oh My" captures the Queen of Soul at near the top of her game, recorded in Philadelphia in 1972 "supposedly" during the convention of the National Association of Television and Radio Announcers. Aretha was backed by a funky and super tight band which is mysteriously un-credited; Rhino- what's up with that?* None the less, Aretha fly's (often a little too quickly) through just about a one hour set of hits, including ("Respect," Don't Play That Song") and covers (the Drifters' "Spanish Harlem" and Bacharach and David's "This Girl's in Love With You").
"Oh Me Oh My" is offered as a limited edition disc of just seventy-five hundred copies; this interesting disk is previously unreleased, and almost was completely lost in Atlantic's tape library until 2003. Enter the historian David Nathan, whose task was to filter through Aretha's vast Atlantic Records vaults, and found this almost forgotten about gem. The British born Nathan's heart-felt liner notes also depict how his own career (as a record shop owner) had actually spoken with Aretha back in 1966, when he had a phone conversation with her at his co- owned Soul City Records store in London. Nathan takes credit as co-producer of "Oh Me Oh MY," and recalls rummaging the vaults, and found that there were two audio tape boxes labeled "Aretha Franklin, NATRA, Philadelphia, 1972." "Thankfully," he says, "spending almost my entire working life in the world of R&B and soul music, I knew what NATRA was." NATRA was mostly about influencing DJ's who might have a close relationship with record label honcho's. These industry execs knew all too well how certain DJ's in various parts of the country could make or break a musicians recording careers, thus Aretha's or any artist performing at the NATRA convention was a very big deal. Plus it was kind of a way for an artist(s) to say thank you for the DJ's support.
Non-the less, there are some very strong performances contained on "Oh Me Oh My." Such as opening "Also Sprach Zarathustra" which explodes into a riveting "Rock Steady," "Chain of Fools" segues nicely into "See Saw," and the closing "Spirit in the Dark," is excellent, but oddly ends with an obvious and weird overdub of crowd clapping. Strangely the highlight for me was "Young, Gifted and Black," which is done instrumentally, but we get to hear Aretha's unique piano playing, and man oh man does the band really roar out of Aretha's solo! It was on this track that I truly thought I had figured out who the players were, that being Bernard Purdie on drums, Cornell Dupree on guitar, and Chuck Rainey on bass. As it turns out, I was two-thirds correct.
My curious mind needed to know who were these extremely fine musicians? So I called the great bassist Chuck Rainey, who asked me to email him a couple of tracks from "Oh Me Oh My." I sent him "Spirit in the Dark," and the outstanding instrumental "Young, Gifted and Black." Rainey told me that on the instrumental that it was definitely Purdie and Dupree playing, but he did not think it was him on bass, he went on to say that the bassist in question obviously listened to Chuck's bass playing on the studio version, and that this unidentified bass player used some of his dynamic "cliché's." Plus he said he was sure that he was never part of band that performed "Young, Gifted and Black" without Aretha singing. Yet he was not certain who the bass player was. What follows is even more interesting in that Rainey went on to say that "Spirit in the Dark" that it was definitely not him on bass, nor was it Purdie on drums or Dupree on guitar. Which begs the question; do these two tracks seem come from two different performances? I for one have to respect Mr. Rainey's impeccable ears, and his knowledge of the music, plus having played on numerous occasions with Purdie, Dupree, as well as Aretha, he would certainly know that it wasn't Bernard and Cornell on this version of "Spirit in the Dark."
Like I mentioned earlier, "Oh Me Oh My" is a very interesting recording, and now with Chuck Rainey's comments; makes this a very mysterious and intriguing album! Forgetting about the above mentioned details, Aretha: Live in Philly (whenever and wherever these tracks were recorded,) is definitely at her full power, and the "nameless" musicians cook hard, thus making "Oh Me Oh My," a very worthwhile investment for any music fans collection.
** Special thank you to Chuck Rainey for taking the time to listen to these tracks, and for spending a good deal of time on the phone with me. Chuck you are the best!
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com