Thursday, October 13, 2005

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!).


Blogger Todd Lucas said...

Another good one. I always love picking up King Curtis 45's because most of them are really good and can be had for cheap. I haven't run across this one yet though. Love that fuzz guitar.

10/14/2005 03:14:00 PM  
Blogger Scott Soriano said...

Yeah, I too pick up King Curtis 45s. Sometimes they really blow, but when they are good, they are great. This is a great one, and one of the few Zeppelin covers that I've heard done well.

10/14/2005 04:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Larry,

I recently listened to a King Curtis track called "Promenade" on Atco Rec, from the "Get ready" LP.

I don't know if this is a well-known track by him as I'm not in the know. But I can tell that it's soo nice! Great one!


10/15/2005 08:03:00 PM  
Blogger A. said...

hey larry

I co-sign what you said in your introduction to the track........white rock acts rarely paid their dues to "the real thing".....(Rolling stones comes to mind)

hope you will visit my similar blog once in a while at


10/16/2005 08:48:00 AM  
Blogger Red Kelly said...

great stuff, lar...

I remember seeing Delaney & Bonnie at the Wollman Rink in Central Park the day after King Curtis was murdered in front of his home up in Harlem in 1971.

He had been doing some touring with them at the time, and it just kinda blew everyone away.

It made quite an impression on this dumb high
school kid, and I went on to become a big fan of the King... never heard this one though, thanks!

10/17/2005 11:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Joel Stitzel said...

This arrangement is practically identical to a version of "Whole Lotta Love" performed by C.C.S. that was a top 20 hit in the UK in late 1970. In C.C.S.'s version, the main melody line is played by a flute, not a sax, but it's got these same quirky key changes and breakdowns, so I'm guessing Curtis was working off of that and not Led Zeppelin's "original". Funny how things trickle down!

10/17/2005 09:40:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Grogan said...

Thanks for the reminder. I have the CCS 45 and didn't make the connection. I should say that even if CCS came first, I prefer the King Curtis version.

10/18/2005 09:03:00 AM  
Blogger craig said...

Man, that sure is funky. I agree with your comments on Buddy Rich, I've got an album of his from 1981 which has some amazingly funky moments. You can read about it here

10/19/2005 04:45:00 PM  
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