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Soul Dynamite: Johnnie Taylor Live at the Summit Club

When people talk about the greatest male soul singers of the 1960s and 1970s, names such as Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Al Green, James Brown, Percy Sledge, James Carr, and Wilson Pickett are frequently mentioned. But one guy that deserves inclusion in that same exalted company is Johnnie Taylor.


Taylor, who passed away in 2000 at the age of 66, had a long and distinguished singing career. Born in Arkansas, he started singing with gospel groups in the 1950s and replaced Sam Cooke in the Soul Stirrers in 1957. He signed to famed Stax Records in 1966 and quickly established himself as one of the most popular soul singers in the business, scoring hits with songs such as “Who’s Making Love”, “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone”, and “Cheaper To Keep Her.” Taylor left Stax for Columbia Records in 1975 and scored a number one pop hit the following year with “Disco Lady.” Like those other great soul singers, Taylor had a versatile repertoire, able to belt funky soul songs along with down and dirty blues tunes, switching to achingly tender love ballads when the mood struck.


I recently bought a CD of Johnnie Taylor Live at the Summit Club, an album culled from live recordings made in 1972. This is, without a doubt, one of the best live albums I’ve ever heard, in any genre. I totally agree with the blurb on the CD’s back cover: “Nobody could work a club like Johnnie Taylor, and on this hot September night in 1972 JT worked LA’s Summit Club. This is Johnnie Taylor like no record ever captured him, squarely in his element, worrying and teasing his way through slow-burn blues and funky soul workouts to a crowd of fur-lined players and ice-cold hustlers who wouldn’t settle for second-rate. Rappin’ to the ladies one moment, smack-talking to his band the next, JT works the room like a storefront preacher gone wrong.”

Indeed, this dynamic live album shows an engaging side of Johnnie Taylor that was glossed over on many of his studio albums. Taylor is on fire throughout the Summit Club performance, storming through a selection of his most popular songs, all while trying to overcome the occasional musical stumbles of his backing band. The liner notes to the CD acknowledge that Taylor was having “some serious problems with the band” (apparently, he had to hastily recruit this unit especially for the LA show) during this performance, and yet to his credit Taylor never lets any of the musical ineptitude prevent him from putting on a powerful, exuberant show.


After detailing the mistakes that the band was making, the liner notes stress that “despite these and other flaws, what makes Taylor’s Summit Club performances so fascinating — and ultimately satisfying — is the way in which he chastises his musicians without breaking the flow. Taylor might have been pissed off at the band, yet he responded with cutting, albeit subtle, wit and proceeded to sing passionately and deliver his ‘soul philosopher’ monologues with the consummate professionalism that was his hallmark.”

Not only was Taylor an expressive and very soulful singer, he was a masterful performer and this Summit Club recording shows him at the peak of those powers. Highly recommended for fans of this golden era of soul music! Meanwhile, here are the other CDs that have been giving me that essential buzz of delight that I need to function each day:


Hank Crawford – Mr. Blues Plays Lady Soul

The Jayhawks – Tomorrow the Green Grass (Expanded Edition)

The Pazant Brothers – Live at the Museum of Modern Art

Elvin Bishop – Live! Raisin’ Hell

Trees – Garden of Jane Delawney



Various Artists – Soul of Angola

Robin Gibb – Saved By the Bell: The Collected Works

Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy

The Animals – Complete Animals

Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti (40th Anniversary Edition)



Petite Noir – La Vie Est Belle

Ash – The Best of

Don Henley – Cass County

The Lime Spiders – Nine Miles High: 1983-1990

Preservation Hall Jazz Band – St. Peter & 57th Street



Various Artists – Peru Maravilloso: Vintage Latin, Tropical, and Cumbia

Turnpike Troubadours – Diamonds & Gasoline

Cornell Campbell Meets Soothsayers – Nothing Can Stop Us

Brewer & Shipley – The Best Of: One Toke Over the Line

Gato Barbieri – Passion and Fire



The Toure-Raichel Collective – The Tel Aviv Session

Michael Murphey – Blue Sky, Night Thunder

Stereolab – Chemical Chords

Bonobo – The North Border

Fleetwood Mac – Mystery To Me



Various Artists – Ian Levine’s Solid Stax Sensations

Donnie Fritts – Oh My Goodness

Sea Level – The Best Of

Undisputed Truth – Smiling Faces: The Best Of

Machito – Kenya/With Flute To Boot



The Bar-Kays – Do You See What I See?

Diane Coffee – Everybody’s A Good Dog

Bob Dylan and the Band – The Basement Tapes Raw

Dexter Gordon – American Classic

New Order – Music Complete



The Hues Corporation – Freedom For the Stallion

Brainstorm – Journey To the Light

Various Artists – Studio One Funk

Russell Smith – Sunday Best: The Cream of the Solo Albums

Richard Thompson – Mock Tudor

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