Soul singer Otis Redding’s shows at the Whisky A-Go Go in the spring of 1966 were just about the hottest ticket in town, drawing fans and pop music heavyweights alike.
“Just before heading overseas on Bob Dylan’s 1966 ‘Going Electric’ tour, we heard that Otis was playing at the Whisky,” guitarist and songwriter Robbie Robertson recalls in the liner notes for the new six-CD set “Live at the Whisky A Go Go: The Complete Recordings.”
The collection, due out Friday, covers seven sets recorded over three nights, available in their entirety for the first time.
“He was my favorite singer at that time,” Robertson recalled. “Bob and I decided to go check it out and Otis didn’t disappoint. He sang with such power and passion it took your breath away…. It was a night I’ll never forget.”
Dylan and Robertson weren’t the only rock stars who hustled to the Whisky to catch Redding. Van Morrison, The Doors’ guitarist Robbie Krieger and area blues musicians including Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder, whose group Rising Sons was the opening act during Redding’s shows, were also there.
Among those performances is the previously unreleased live version of “Respect,” Redding’s song that became an anthem of African American and female empowerment after Aretha Franklin put her distinctive spin on it in 1967.
This new box set expands on the two-CD “Otis Redding — Live on the Sunset Strip” set released in 2010 capturing highlights from his stand in L.A. half a century ago, itself a more generous look at those shows than the original 10-song single LP released in 1968, following his death a year earlier in a plane crash at age 27.
There’s considerable repetition of titles on this new track list, to be sure. But Redding was first and foremost a song stylist, one who never performed a song the same way twice. That was his gift and, in some cases, his curse. It hampered many of his television performances in an era when singers were often required to lip-sync with recorded versions, something that wasn’t one of Redding’s strength.
In the new box, for instance, there are 10 performances of the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” which Redding had on the pop singles charts at the time, helping explain why it turns up not just once but twice in some sets.
But his renditions vary dramatically, from four minutes flat in one set to 9:15 in another. And although “Respect” became one of the most enduring songs he wrote, thanks both to his studio version and Franklin’s subsequent recording, it’s here just three times.
The sets themselves also show little sign of uniformity, from a brief six songs in the second set of his second night’s performance to a 14-song workout that closed out the Whisky stint with a barrage of his own songs plus readings of the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” and a treatment of James Brown’s “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” that run past the 10-minute mark.
The set is produced by veteran record executive Bill Bentley and includes new liner notes from L.A.-based journalist (and former Times staff writer) Lynell George.