Package tours were the norm for many artists and companies back in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Five or six artists who had current hits would share the same backing band; perform three or so of their songs, and then move on to the next town. Dick Clark had a tour on the road for decades and the Motown Revue was a money-maker for the label. Two such concerts, originally released on vinyl during the early 1960s, are now available on CD for the first time.
A group of Atlantic Label artists pulled into the legendary Apollo Theatre on November 16, 1963, and the tape was rolling. The Falcons with Eddie Floyd and Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Doris Troy, Rufus Thomas, The Coasters, and Ben E. King each performed two or three songs in rapid succession.
As with any concert with multiple acts, there are hits and misses. The Falcons were a gritty rhythm & blues group fronted by two future stars. “I Found A Love” and “Alabama Bound” are good examples of the early 1960’s fusion of soul and blues. Rufus Thomas changed little with the passage of time and his “Rockin’ Chair” and “Walkin’ The Dog” could have been sung 25 years later with the same funky results.
The highlight of the night was the three song closing set by Ben E. King. He had a smooth soul sound that few have duplicated as “Groovin,’” “Don’t Play That Song,” and “Stand By Me” just slide by the senses.
On the other hand, Doris Troy presents an uninspired “Misty” and “Say Yeah.” The Coasters do not sing any of their big hits and are basically a filler act. The real disappointment is Otis Redding. He had not developed into the charismatic stage presence that he would shortly become. Here he sings a subdued “Pain In My Heart” and “These Arms of Mine.”
One year later, The Drifters, Patty & The Emblems, The Vibrations, Wilson Pickett, Patti LaBelle & Her Bluebelles, The Carltons, and Barbara Lynn were at the Uptown Theatre in Philadelphia. DJ and show emcee Jimmy Bishop gives the recording a more intimate feel as he interacts with the groups and the audience.
The highlight of the evening is the Drifters featuring lead vocalist Johnny Moore. The present their current hit at the time “Under The Boardwalk,” plus “On Broadway” and “There Goes My Baby.”
Wilson Picket moved the show in a gospel direction with “If You Need Me” and “I’m Gonna Cry.” The other highlight is the Vibrations who hook into the dance crazes of the early 1960s with “My Girl Sloopy” and “The Watusi.”
The sound of the performances is uneven. Future superstar engineer and producer Tom Dowd was in charge but even he was subject to the technology of the time period. Played on today’s equipment, the flaws are apparent. The accompanying booklet makes up for some of the sound issues as it gives a complete history of the acts and shows. The inclusion of the original liner notes are a plus.
Apollo Saturday Night/Saturday Night At The Uptown is a trip back in time to a very different era. It is a journey worth taking.