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Published: 2007/10/26
by Brian Ferdman

Stax/Volt Revue Live in Norway 1967

Reelin’ In the Years Productions DVD 7030

In the Spring of 1967, Atlantic Records funded a European tour for the stars of its partner label, Stax Records, the Memphis-based soul imprint that was affectionately known as “the little engine that could.” The tour was the brainchild of Phil Walden, manager of Stax star Otis Redding, and aside from Redding, it was the first time that any of these artists had ever performed outside the United States. When they arrived in Europe, they were surprised to find mostly adoring crowds who were enamored with their music. The second to last show of the tour was captured for Norwegian state television, and 40 years later, the 75 minutes of remaining footage from this landmark show in Oslo has been deftly assembled by a crack team of editors, who have successfully re-shaped and re-created this April 7, 1967 performance of soul music titans.

The Oslo gig was somewhat unique in that soul music was essentially an unknown entity in Norway. Despite the fact there was snow falling, around 1,000 people who were largely unfamiliar with the Stax sound showed up for both the early and late shows. House band extraordinaire Booker T. & The M.G.’s got the ball rolling with the thick funk of “Red Beans and Rice.” Then they whipped into their old chestnut, “Green Onions,” pushing the tempo into a heavy drive and quickly winning over the audience. The three piece horns of The Mar-Keys joined the fray, delighting the audience with “Philly Dog,” “Grab This Thing,” and “Last Night.” This combination of musicians would remain on stage throughout the night, showcasing the formidable skills of rock-solid bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, the crunchy leads of guitarist Steve Cropper, and the remarkably effortless grooves laid down by drummer Al Jackson, Jr. Despite having a reputation for being “heavy-assed,” the Norwegian crowd was clearly sucked into this music, clapping and grooving along as if they had been listening to Stax for their entire lives.

But the show had only just begun.

As soon as Arthur Conley graced the stage, everything ramped up to another level. The gravelly-throated vocalist was a prot of Redding, and his spin on “In the Midnight Hour” absolutely riveted the room. His hit “Sweet Soul Music” featured him dancing across the stage, invoking the names, vibes, and moves of the premier soul singers of the day, while heads in the crowd shook with glee. Eddie Floyd was the next man out, and he dropped the tempo a bit with “Raise Your Hand.” Nevertheless, bobbing and weaving with his patented Duke of Earl-inspired steps, it took him about 20 seconds to bring everyone to their feet. Then he descended the venue’s floor and whipped the throngs into a frenzy, pissing off the soldiers who were acting as security guards. As scores of young people surrounded him and raised their hands while grooving in a kind of newfound social freedom, it was evident that at this particular moment in time, Floyd had just created the funkiest moment in Norwegian history.

Never to be outdone, the illustrious Sam and Dave ran out on to the stage to burn through four potent numbers. After ending the high-energy “You Don’t Know Like I Know,” the duo shifted into the soulful pinings of “Soothe Me.” With Sam Moore twirling the microphone and prowling across the edge of the stage, the two entertainers were just beginning their liftoff sequence. The removed their jackets, and the heartfelt, slow burn of “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” took the spotlight, gallons of sweat pouring off Sam and Dave’s faces. Then the explosion arrived in the form of “Hold On! I’m Comin’.” This cut was an incredible combination of powerhouse vocals, slick choreography, and electric improvisation by Booker T. & The M.G.’s. As the song progressed, Sam and Dave summoned the spirit of James Brown, gliding across the floor and working the crowd over like a rented mule. In a coda that seemed to last around three minutes, Sam and Dave exited, returned to dance across the stage, on the floor, in the audience, and then finally do a few windmills until Jackson pushed the tempo so fast that the band could barely avoid crashing through the ending.

How the Hell do you follow that? Well, if you’re name was Otis Redding, you relished the challenge. While he didn’t have the dance moves of Conley or Sam and Dave, Otis had an unparalleled voice and incredible charm. With his opening “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” his million dollar smile radiated warmth throughout the hall, immediately pulling the audience into the palm of his hand and engaging them in a spirited call-and-response sequence. A master showman, Redding quickly had the crowd on the verge of climax, but like a Taoist lover, he slowed them down and teased their emotions with a growling version of “My Girl” that caused one young Norwegian to pass out in ecstasy. Then it was time to go full throttle and Redding made a beeline for the G-spot on racing versions of “Shake” and “Satisfaction.” The grand finale of “Try A Little Tenderness” caused the crowd to erupt with unbridled joy, thanks in no part to three separate false exits by Redding, with each return pushing the tempo faster and faster until every audience member was out of their seat and lunging toward the stage in orgasmic convulsions. There would be no encore because there was not enough oxygen left in the room.

This revue was brilliantly constructed to give the audience a series of peaks that continually rose higher and higher until Otis Redding blew the mountain apart. Every vocalist seemed to try to out-do each other, and it’s almost unbelievable to see how easily they were each able to consistently up the ante. Of course, this entire exercise would have been impossible without the Herculean efforts of Booker T. & The M.G.’s and The Mar-Keys, who were somehow able to smoothly improvise through every unexpected vamp, dance break, or crowd visit from these boisterous singers.

Two months after this performance, the Stax crew would perform at The Monterey Pop Festival, wowing everyone and going global with their iconic, soulful sounds. Seven months after that, Otis Redding would be dead. Arthur Conley would never recover from the loss of his mentor, quitting the music business altogether. Shortly thereafter, Stax would shift its focus away from Memphis and split with Atlantic, losing Sam and Dave, who would never again regain their popularity. Thus, this European tour was the start of a meteoric rise and eventual tragic fall for Stax records, but thankfully, Stax/Volt Revue Live in Norway 1967 captures the ascending spirit of this amazing little soul label from Memphis.

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