Not so much a record as a snapshot in time, one thing is for sure, Live at The Whisky A Go Go is essential for the Otis Redding completist. Covering seven shows over three consecutive nights in 1966 at the legendary Hollywood venue, it may, in a pick and choose way, also be essential for anyone with even just a passing interest. Make no mistake, this is electrifying, high-octane, deeply soulful stuff. It’s also an opportunity to hear ten different takes of ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction)‘. Or five versions of the newly written ‘Good To Me‘. For good or ill, you get minutely different, finessed versions of a whole host of songs.
In some ways, this six-CD set feels like it has one, absolute killer, release within it. A splicing together to show off an undoubted genius with a set of lungs to rival any, ever. Which, of course, is exactly the case. The condensed, In Person at the Whisky A Go Go, was released in 1968 – this is the three, sweat-drenched, evenings that brought forth the material to make that album. Between songs chatter, audience-yelps and all. Indeed, it includes Otis’s own observations on whether a retake was required: “Right now, we gonna keep the tempo down. To try this one again to put in the album“, (of ‘Good to Me‘). If all that sounds a little studio-dreary and music-nerdish, it shouldn’t. There is a crackle and thrill about the whole affair as the band and singer nail things. This is no collection of outtakes for the truly committed only, it’s a record of a residency with a life about it that truly draws the listener in.
Recorded just before Redding fully crossed over into the mainstream via the Monterey Pop Festival, it catches the 24-year-old both fully developed and on the cusp. Already a success on soul and R&B radio, with some singles success across the board, the energy and choice of venue clearly reaches out to a wider audience. The venue, more used to bands like The Doors, was picked to shove him straight into the faces of the rock public. The energy is self-explanatory and utterly successful. Pretty much impossible to resist and it catapulted Redding into the public consciousness. Indeed, The Doors’ Robby Krieger (present for one evening) said, “I remember standing right in front of the stage for the whole show. I never heard of Otis Redding before and I was amazed at the energy that he created on the stage”. For a still fairly ghettoised music industry, it should not be underestimated how powerful these performances were.
And we now have them in their complete glory. The whole shebang in their entirety for the first time ever. You may need to annotate to remember which version of which song you prefer, but it’s a fascinating document. More than that, though, it’s a luxurious look at a career cut tragically short by a plane crash the following year. The high points – such as pretty much any run through of ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long‘ – fizz with such talent and drive it’s fair impossible not to wish you had been there.