King Curtis was an R&B giant, his honking tenor sax graced records by the likes of The Coasters, Buddy Holly and the great Ronnie Hawkins. Curtis worked with a wide array of artists starting his career with jazz great Lionel Hampton he went to work with the likes of Cannonball Adderley, Wynton Kelly and Aretha Franklin.
This classic live album was recorded in Mar 1971 at the Fillmore West in San Francisco while King Curtis and his band the Kingpins were backing Aretha Franklin, Aretha herself recorded a live album during the same run of shows. Curtis was backed by a stellar cast of musicians Cornell Dupree on guitar, Jerry Jemmott on bass, Billy Preston on the organ, Truman Thomas on piano, the brilliant Bernard Purdie on drums, Pancho Morales on congas and the inimitable Memphis Horns bring some southern funk to the cisco bay. The album is a grab bag of funky soul, lean jazz with a groove that doesn't let up, even when Curtis slows things down the rhythm just floats and still gets your feet tapping. You couldn't find a better way to start a live show than with Memphis Soul Stew and the Kingpins and the Memphis Horns push this song into a funk overdrive, Purdie just stomps on the 2 and the four, double kicking that bass drum while Jerry Jemmott dances and answers to the beat. The Jerry Butler classic I Stand Accused is given the Issac Hayes re-treatment and it's turned into a slow burning groove with some pulsating wah wah work from Cornell. Buddy Miles' Them Changes has Curtis getting that chicken cluck on as the horns fade in and out with their call and response. As Curtis wails Billy Preston noodles along and then springs to live with some buzzing hammond, it's great to hear a master in full flight. Preston gives Procol Harum's Whiter Shade of Pale a distinct gospel feel in the opening bars, Curtis brings his jazz chops to the for with some exquisite tasteful playing.
His version of Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love is brave but it doesn't quite work, the band can't capture the heaviness of the original. Curtis gives it a stomping funk facelift and his own soloing is precise and fluid but it's like they get to a point and go where do we take this. Ode to Billie Joe is more suited and they give it a lowdown greasy groove, Curtis pushes his sax through some sort of wah wah and it gives the song a dreamy spaced out feel. He takes the same approach with Mr Bojangles, interestingly Jerry Jemmott played bass on the original Jerry Jeff Walker release. The album finishes with Curtis' 1962 hit Soul Serenade Curtis cascades and shadows interweaving with Preston whilst the band just lay it back in the pocket, they left the stage smoking for Aretha. On the remastered LP with extra tracks Billy Preston does a foot stomping version of George Harrisons' My Sweet Lord. Tragically a week after this album was released in August 1971 Curtis was stabbed outside his Manhattan apartment complex.