King Curtis & The Kingpins - Whole Lotta Love
Zeppelin Soul Stew
Gotta love King Curtis.... His career and accomplishments are almost too diverse to get a real handle on. He worked jazz, R&B, blues, soul and funk before being murdered in 1971. The King laid down some amazing sides, including the mighty ‘Memphis Soul Stew’ (the flipside of which, ‘Blue Nocturne’ is one of my all-time fave soul instros), ‘Instant Funk’ and his early hits ‘Soul Twist’ and ‘Soul Serenade’. In the last few years of his career he recorded several LPs for Atco, on which he by and large remade the hits of the day with lots of soul and style. How he got his hands on ‘Whole Lotta Love’, I have no idea. He recorded it in 1971, and a live version of the track appeared on his ‘Live At the Fillmore West’ LP (I believe that the track featured today was a 45 only studio track). Two weeks after he recorded that particular album he was murdered in New York City. I first heard this record – believe it or not – being used as a bumper intro/.outro on the Howard Stern Show. Fred Norris used to employ all kinds of crazy instros to play them in and out of live commercials. The first time I heard it I thought it had to be from some kind of exploitation/dollar bin “hits” LP. It wasn’t until I pulled the 45 out of a stack of otherwise uninspiring vinyl at a record show did I realize that I’d actually been listening to King Curtis. I’ll make a leap and assume that the same cats that played on the Fillmore LP are here as well, which would mean that it’s Cornell Dupree laying down the fuzzed out guitar leads, and the Memphis Horns (plus heavy friends) working the brass. Not surprisingly King Curtis manages to bring a jazzy touch to the proceedings, and the overall feel isn’t too far from the kind of stuff that Woody Herman was doing with Richard Evans on Cadet or that Buddy Rich was recording for World Pacific/Pacific Jazz. Though the sax leads are pretty straight forward restating of the main melody from the song, the horn charts are dynamic. I’m not sure who was doing the arranging, though Arif Mardin arranged some of his ATCO sessions from around the same time. Say what you want about old time jazzbos trying to stay relevant – something that often yielded embarrassing results – but both Herman and Rich layed down some heavy stuff in the late 60’s/early 70’s. Listen to tracks like Herman’s ‘The Hut’ or ‘Sex Machine’ (the Sly Stone tune) or Rich’s “It’s Crazy’ for big band tracks that managed to be both satisfying on a jazz level as well as powerful in a rock/soul way as well. King Curtis’s take on ‘Whole Lotta Love’ creates the same kind of feel, managing as well to remove Robert Plant's tortured wailing without deflating the tune’s bombast. I have no idea whether Zeppelin was aware of King Curtis’s reworking, or whether the very recording of the tune was engineered by some greedy soul at Atlantic who had a vested interest in puffing up those royalty statements. Either way, those were strange days, in which larger jazz, soul and blues bands shared ballroom stages with all manner of long-haired, exploding crotch, post-hippie excess, and it’s as likely that the good King and the Limey rock juggernaut crossed paths at some point. Plant was certainly a big fan of US soul and R&B, which - despite his fandom resulting in execrable garbage like the Honeydrippers – was a good thing, even if he and Page weren’t always willing to give credit where credit was due (You go Willie Dixon!).