Johnnie Taylor
Live At The Summit
By Bob Putignano

Many of us know Johnnie Taylor for his smash hit "Who's Making Love," and so much more. But on this recording the assembled backup band isn't up to par.

This previously unreleased CD performance is a bit of a train wreck as Taylor is definitely having a hard time with the band. Which begs the question, why was this recording released? A little history: Concord recently bought the catalog of Stax from Fantasy Records and as part of the fiftieth anniversary of Stax series, Concord has been releasing a Stax Profile series on many of its fabled roster hit makers, plus the delightful two-CD box set Stax 50th Anniversary Celebration. It should be noted that portions of this performance are available on the CD Wattstax 2 and this marks the first time the entire Johnnie Taylor set makes its appearance on CD.

Interestingly, Taylor is in great form, he is a one-man show carrying the band. As Taylor gets into a very Bluesy bag then tears through most of his more well known recorded material. He allows the band to expand and let loose, but the band is obviously uncomfortable with Taylor's material.

Someone at Concord must have been asleep at the switch as they allowed liner note author Leo Hildebrand to say things like (and I quote directly from the CD) "The then 38-year-old was having some serious problems with the band, the band stumbles to a start, the horn section misses its first riff, leading to momentary harmonic confusion. Yet the singer seems unfazed by the mistakes, wailing his heart out on 'Little Bluebird' for nearly eight minutes, in what is probably the most intense Blues performance captured on tape during his prolific career." OK, so there is some good here, but Hildebrand then quotes Taylor's remarks from the stage - "We been draggin' all night. I'm gonna talk to the audience. I think I can get a better understanding outta of the audience here right now." Hildebrand summarizes in his final paragraph "One could wonder endlessly what went on that night at the Summit Club, but in the end we're left with this document of what a truly wondrous singer Johnnie Taylor was, and how he could so completely command a crowd, even under diverse circumstances, as well as command our ears some 33 years after the fact." I agree.

Basically my take is that this release offers an interesting view of the great Johnnie Taylor's prowess on stage, so a "9" rating for Taylor's performance and "-4" rating for the band.

Bob Putignano

Bob Putignano
Radio Host WFDU's "Sounds of Blue"
President of the NY Blues and Jazz Society