Got to have Soul!
Two DVD bootlegs that have had pretty steady rotation at my house feature early-70s performances of Stevie Wonder and Al Green. Both shows capture the artists at inarguably their prime, performing on a small, sweaty soundstage, live with no backing tapes or tricks, playing for a very responsive African American audience.
Both shows were drawn from a program called, simply, Soul! Aside from the odd clip mysteriously posted on YouTube, and the two previously mentioned bootleg DVDs, I’ve never seen much evidence of Soul! The program, that is.
Thankfully, WNET, the New York cable channel which hosted the show from September 1968 through March 1973, has begun digitizing and posting online episodes that thankfully have not been lost. What they’ve already made available is a treasure trove – Earth, Wind & Fire from 1973 (be sure to check out chapter three, with the mindbending jam and bass solo), Willie Colon and Tito Puente from 1972, Rahsaan Roland Kirk that same year, Ron Carter and Bobby Hebb collaborating on Hebb’s hit “Sunny.”
The episode list posted by WNET of all epsiodes is enough to make a soul, funk, R&B or jazz fan tremble with anticipation. Sam & Dave, Johnny Taylor and Jimmy McGriff, Don Covay, BB King, the O’Jays, Jerry Butler, Eddie Floyd, The Last Poets, Joe Tex, King Kurtis, Archie Bell & The Drells, Pharaoh Sanders, Clarence Carter, Candy Staton, Curtis Mayfield, Roberta Flack, Patti Labelle. Sweet Inspirations. Donnie Hathaway, Herbie Hancock.
In short, it is a motherlode. Whether all those episodes are still available and in decent enough condition to air is not known, but even if a fraction of it makes its way back into circulation, the floodgates could open to a vast new chapter in the documenting of African American music during a vital period. Of course, even digitizing the material will fuel inevitable pressure to make the music available commercially. Let the gods of licensing smile upon this effort.
Original ads for the program declared: “At Last! The Nation is Getting Soul!” Funny how history repeats.
Bring it on.