Hit the STAX road! – The Stax/Volt Revue Tour of 1967
In the spring of 1967, the Stax & Volt labels organized a large European tour of soul music, with Booker T & the M.G.s and the Mar-Keys as the backing band. Just as it was within the recording studio of the Memphis-based Stax studios. With them on this great tour went Eddie Floyd, Arthur Conley, Sam & Dave and Otis Redding! In hindsight, could it be any better?
But at the time, noone really understood what this was. Not the least in the Nordic countries. Who had even heard of Otis Redding then? Booker T, just forget it! Barely anyone in Norway even had any idea where Memphis was.
Barry Matheson, the MC, deserves all the credit he can muster for organizing the concert. The audience turnout was low and he lost some $10k on the concert – at the time a real fortune. But the concert created history.
NRK – the Norwegian public broadcasting corporation – was, very fortunately as it turned out, there to record the concert. Parts of the concert was broadcast soon after in two installments, each of about 30 mins, in late June and early August of 1967. The complete concert was about 90 mins. The added Episode 2 of 17 minutes completes the 78 minutes that is available from the concert.
So here they are, all three NRK broadcasts (the article continues below):
Episode 1 (31:25)
1 Booker T & the M.G.s: Green Onions – v 1
2 The Mar-Keys: Philly Dog
3 Arthur Conley: Sweet Soul Music
4 Sam & Dave: Soothe Me
5 Eddie Floyd: Raise Your Hand
6 Otis Redding: My Girl
7 Otis Redding: Shake
8 Otis Redding: I’ve been Loving You too Long (INC)
Episode 2 (16:35)
1 Barry Matheson (MC): Intro to the concert
2 Booker T & the M.G.s: Red Rice Beans
3 Arthur Conley: In the Midnight Hour
4 Otis Redding: Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)
5 Sam & Dave: You don’t Know Like I Know
Episode 3 (30:01)
1 Booker T & the M.G.s: Green Onions – v 2
2 The Mar-Keys: Grab this Thing
3 The Mar-Keys: Last Night
4 Sam & Dave: When Something is Wrong with my Baby
5 Sam & Dave: Hold On I’m Coming
6 Otis Redding: I can’t get no Satisfaction
7 Otis Redding: Try a little Tenderness
On April 7, 1967 the touring company of the Stax/Volt Revue Tour came to Oslo with their tour bus straight from Stockholm. The scheduled venue, Njårdhallen, was actually built as a handball arena – a nightmare of a concert venue if ever there was one. The tour bus – following tire punctures and other problems – arrived at the concert venue a couple of minutes past the scheduled time of the concert start – at 8 p.m.
How did this concert even come about? I mean, Otis Redding and the Booker T & M.G.s — in Oslo — in 1967? Who could not understand that revolution was on its way? But this is all hindsight. At the time things looked very differently. In 1967 it was up to one man singlehandedly – Barry Matheson – to change this.
In 1967 soul music was fairly unknown in Norway. The audience – far from packed, but including the few in the know – was already in place well before 8 p.m. For the organizers the question was; would the audience leave when the band was not in place on time?
They didn’t. But there was no time for sound checks or anything for the crew. With their arrival, the band just went on stage and checked that all the equipment was in place. As included in the crew’s contract all instruments, the necessary PA systems and all, were to be furnished by the local organizer and concert promoter. So it had to be there … and it was!
The band just checked that instruments were there, all plugged in and ready to use. They went backstage – a small narrow strip behind a huge curtain hung up behind the stage. The stage was put up at the middle of one of the long sides of the handball arena, where its wooden curved roof hit the ground. As a Norwegian musician said about playing this venue; «it was like playing in a halved tin can».
The instruments they played on this night, were – as per the tour contract – borrowed instruments. This night from the Norwegian band The Vanguards, a rock unit starting out as a Shadows-band in the very early 1960s, but by the time of 1967 having evolved into a style pronouncing a new, emerging kind of rock – what we later came to know as progressive or art rock.
The main instrumental voice in the Vanguards since 1962 had been the lead guitar player Terje Rypdal. At this time he still was as a complete unknown. But his status would be turned upside-down over the next two years. He was soon to establish the band Dream, and the went on to the Min Bul project, before he created his first master piece Bleak House.
It is obvious from the tape that Steve Cropper is playing a Fender Telecaster here. But then my big question is: Is it Rypdal’s light blue Fender Telecaster Steve Cropper is playing here? And did Steve Cropper ever know?
Backstage at Njårdhallen the artists – after checking the equipment – quickly dressed into their stage outfits. Immaculately pressed suits with black, shiny shoes for all. Then; out on the stage, and get going. That’s all there is! Give it to ’em! This is soul! Just deliver it!
And they did!
This was the only concert of the Stax tour that was filmed in its entirety. Norwegian TV-producer in NRK, Johnny Berg, was directing the recording of the concert in a bus outside of the venue and later editing the tape for broadcasting.
As he later stated himself, he had no idea about the music he was about to record. But having been a drummer during his teen years, helped him in counting the four to the bar in the directing the camera men. With his directions he created some camera work that was pretty innovative at the time, showing the way to camera tricks that took three decades to become standard issue.
Soon after the concert the original tape of the recording was erased, to be used for other purposes. Tapes were expensive in 1967 – and the only argument making sense at the time, was to reuse them. So the concert tape of this concert was reused and the recording lost forever. Or so they thought at NRK.
After erasure the 1967 Stax concert was forgotten by NRK – for nearly forty years. If anyone asked during these decades, the answer was always the same; – The tape is erased, no extant copy survives.
For obvious reasons, I wasn’t there in 1967. But I’ve heard all the stories about the concert. For those that were there, it was a revelation. Including for the artist, later CEO of the Swedish Film Institute and Norwegian Minister of Cultural Affairs, Åse Kleveland. She was there as an 18 years old budding artist. You’ll see her on the tape. She’s the one wearing the then fashionable bonnet cap.
The concert changed the world. But the tape of it was lost. Myself, I had to live with this – I would never have the opportunity of (re-)living the experience. At least that was what I and everyone else believed.
This state of being lost was the tape’s accepted status, until the Reelin’ in the Years-guys started pushing the issue vis-a-vis NRK some ten years ago. By this time, clips from the concert had been circulating among collectors for twenty years. The guys relented – and hit on the holy grail. NRK finally had to admit that, though the original tape was erased, a copy reel of the two 1967 broadcasts existed!
According to Rob Bowman, professor at the York University of Toronto, and a Stax expert, the Stax/Volt tour of 1967 was the best tour of soul music ever. For those of us loving the dirty Memphis Stax sound, in contrast to the slick pop-oriented Detroit sound of Motown, this was the holy grail of soul music. What do you say – the great Otis Redding on stage, just nine months before he died, and the only instance where he is seen in concert with the Stax house band. At the end of the tour – all warmed up – hot and ready. Whaddaya say?
The published DVD of the concert, issued by Reelin’ in the Years in 2007, includes another 15 minutes of the concert not included in the original 1967 broadcasts, later discovered in the NRK archives. This is now included above as Episode 2. The only complaint I personally have about the published DVD-version from Reelin’ in the Years, is: – Why convert it to the substandard North-American NTSC standard, when it was already recorded in the European PAL standard? Doing this is just so totally 1975!
What I give you here at salt peanuts* are three links to the original 1967 – PAL formatted – broadcasts of NRK from the 1967 Stax/Volt Revue Tour. Just click on the separate episode set lists above – and enjoy. NRK says there are no distributional restrictions, so this should be accessible worldwide.
I admit, the sound quality is far from the best, but what do you expect when they were playing inside half a tin can?
Crank up the volume and enjoy some good ole sweet soul music!
Hit the STAX road!
Text: Johan Hauknes
Image: The 1967 Concert Poster