Kubernik: Wattstax, Soul'd Out

On February 24, 2023, Stax Records and Craft Recordings record label will be issuing a 6 CD and 10 LP set on Wattstax, Soul’d Out: The Complete Wattstax Collection with an introduction by Al Bell, Wattstax creator, and new essays by Rob Bowman and A. Scott Galloway.  

          On August 20, 1972, over one hundred and ten thousand people witnessed a seven-hour concert in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The epochal Wattstax music festival celebrated a new direction in soul and R & B for 1972. Isaac Hayes, the Staples Singers, Luther Ingram, Albert King, Little Milton, Johnny Taylor, and Rufus Thomas contributed to this event recognizing the increasing cultural and financial strength of the downtown and South Central L.A. communities.

     The entertainers’ expenses, the equipment, the promotion, and the advertising were all paid for by the Stax organization, in conjunction with the Schlitz Brewing Company. Ticket sales benefited the Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation, the Martin Luther King Hospital in Watts, and the Watts Summer Festival.

    In 1973, the documentary film Wattstax, directed by Mel Stuart, enjoyed a national theatrical release. It debuted at the Cannes Festival in 1973 and nominated for a Best Documentary, and a Golden Globe. There was a double-disc sound track. 

    “They asked me to do the show,” recalled Stuart in a 2006 interview I did with him for my book Hollywood Shack Job: Rock Music In Film and on Your Screen. 

    “Wattstax started when Stax Records wanted to do a big concert at the Los Angeles Coliseum to recognize the Watts Riots of summer 1965, and wanted to show off all their artists in a big concert that would go on for nine hours. Al Bell, then the Stax Organization’s board chairman, got in touch with David Wolper, who I worked with, and he had some connections at Columbia Pictures, and through David, Stax, and Columbia, they decided to shoot a documentary that would play in the theaters.

       “I knew a lot about music, but I had never done a show like this. What I did was meet with the Stax people, and basically, the way I wanted to work was to be the only white person. Everybody else would be black. Everybody who would advise me, be around me, and guide me would be black, because they would understand [that] what we were trying to do was create some kind of personification of the way black people feel at a particular time. I made sure that we hired all-black crews because, at the time, they didn’t get a chance to get jobs. I don’t do storyboards. I’ve done too many documentaries, and just follow my brain.

“The Stax people lined up all their talent that was available. I was also fortunate, because three or four acts couldn’t make it, so I had the Emotions on location in a church, both Johnnie Taylor and Richard Pryor in a funky club, and Little Milton out by the railroad tracks.

    “Luther Ingram’s ‘(If Lovin’ You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right.’ Man, I love that song. I think that song is so ‘on.’ I used the entire full version. Rufus Thomas’ ‘Funky Chicken.’ A big moment for me was when Kim Weston got up and sang ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ and nobody stood up. And they really stood up for Jesse Jackson’s ‘I Am Somebody’ and ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’”    

In 2003 a DVD was issued and screened at the Sundance Film Festival.

   “There are people coming to see it now, who weren’t even born when the movie was made,” reiterated Stuart. “By the way, the audience gets more and more white. It’s become a thing. I think people have a much greater understanding of the black experience today than they had then.” 

    From the Dec. 7, 2022 Stax Records and Craft Recordings announcement:

     “Created in conjunction with the annual Watts Summer Festival to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the Watts uprising in Los Angeles, the Aug. 20, 1972, Wattstax benefit concert was attended by more than 100,000 people. It featured performances from Stax Records’ most popular artists of the time, including, but not limited to, Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas and The Bar-Kays. These releases are the first complete audio collections of what Wattstax creator and then-President of Stax Records, Al Bell, calls the “most jubilant celebration of African American music, culture, and values in American history.”

Soul’d Out: The Complete Wattstax Collection is a 12-CD box set featuring the complete 1972 L.A. Memorial Coliseum concert plus recordings from the Summit Club, including 31 previously unreleased tracks across the collection. These recordings are housed in a folio with a 76-page, full-color book featuring an introduction by Bell, and new essays by Rob Bowman and A. Scott Galloway. A previously unreleased version of the iconic soul funk anthem “Theme From Shaft” by the legendary Isaac Hayes from his headline set at Wattstax was released in advance of the set.

Wattstax: The Complete Concert includes the full L.A. Memorial Coliseum concert and is available on both 6-CD and 10-LP formats. In addition to musical performances, it features all the speeches and other stage banter from the event, including event MC, the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s often referenced “I Am Somebody” speech. Both formats of this collection include the full-color book with introduction by Wattstax creator Al Bell, and essays by Rob Bowman and A. Scott Galloway that is also included in Soul’d Out: The Complete Wattstax Collection.

   “In addition, 1-CD title, The Best of Wattstax, brings together a handpicked selection of twenty of the best musical performances from the Wattstax concert. Including performances by Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, The Bar-Kays, Kim Weston, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Albert King, Eddie Floyd and more, and serves as a great introduction to the event and the many iconic artists that it featured.

Newly cut from the original analog tapes, reissues of the two original soundtrack albums Wattstax: The Living Word and The Living Word: Wattstax 2—which feature highlights from the concert and subsequent documentary film—will also each be reissued on 2-LP formats on the same date.”

Harvey Kubernik is the author of 20 books, including 2009’s Canyon Of Dreams: The Magic And The Music Of Laurel Canyon and 2014’s Turn Up The Radio! Rock, Pop and Roll In Los Angeles 1956-1972.   Sterling/Barnes and Noble in 2018 published Harvey and Kenneth Kubernik’s The Story Of The Band: From Big Pink To The Last Waltz. In2021 they wrote Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child for Sterling/Barnes and Noble.

    Otherworld Cottage Industries in 2020 published Harvey’s Docs That Rock, Music That Matters.

Kubernik’s writings are in several book anthologies, including, The Rolling Stone Book Of The Beats and Drinking With Bukowski. Harvey wrote liner notes to the CD re-releases of Carole King’s Tapestry, The Essential Carole King, Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, Elvis Presley The ’68 Comeback Special, The Ramones’ End of the Century and Big Brother & the Holding Company Captured Live at The Monterey International Pop Festival.  

   In 2006, Kubernik addressed audiotape preservation held by The Library of Congress.