In the summer of 1972, Stax Records had an idea that was larger than life. Stax’s co-owner, Al Bell, had wanted to expand the soul label’s West Coast presence and develop its Stax Films arm. The ideal way to do both was to stage the biggest soul concert in history — termed by one former staff member “the black Woodstock” — right in the center of South Central Los Angeles, a vast portion of which had been destroyed by fire in the Watts Riots. The concert, called Wattstax, proved a crowning moment for Stax as 112,000 people united at the Los Angeles Coliseum in a spirit of joy, pride and celebration. The resultant movie was a blockbuster and plays to this date in many music film festivals. And now the original two-LP soundtrack has been expanded to three CDs, including material from the original Wattstax album (which sold seven million copies in the SoundScan era alone) as well as from its sequel, Wattstax: The Living Word, along with samplings from Wattstax-related individual artist albums released in 1972-73.
This is the first domestic reissue of the complete Wattstax soundtrack, housed in a collectible Digipack featuring rare photographs and reproductions of vintage Wattstax-era posters. The package also contains a multi-page booklet on the story of Wattstax by noted soul music historian Rob Bowman and has been digitally remastered from the original tapes.
The expanded Wattstax volume features many Stax artists whose careers were surging in the early ‘70s: namely Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas, Johnnie Taylor, Eddie Floyd, William Bell, The Bar-Kays, The Emotions, Albert King, Little Milton, The Rance Allen Group, David Porter, The Soul Children, Mel & Tim, Fredrick Knight, Deborah Manning, Little Sonny and Richard Pryor. The set includes such hits as “Respect Yourself,” “I’ll Take You There,” “Gee Whiz,” “Theme from Shaft,” “Son of Shaft,” “Do The Funky Chicken,” “Backfield in Motion,” “Knock On Wood,” “Steal Away” and more — 47 songs in all on three CDs.
In addition to music from the concert, Stax filmed and recorded its artists all around town in clubs, churches and even in the studio. The expanded Wattstax anthology includes the best of the live festival from Wattstax and Wattstax: The Living Word plus a slew of previously unreleased festival performances, selected tracks from the club and church recordings staged during the week of the festival, and selected bits by comedian Richard Pryor that were recorded at the Summit Club in Los Angeles. Pryor’s contributions were originally used in the Wattstax film to connect the music performances with man-on-the-street commentary on issues that were then pertinent to black America. Included also is an introduction by the Rev. Jesse Jackson – himself a Stax spoken-word recording artist at the time.
Wattstax was hoped to be the first step in a series of urban festivals and movies to be produced by Stax, but sequels were never to materialize. The festival hit the zeitgeist of black America at that point in time. And 35 hot summers after the festival, the music sounds as fresh as ever.