Duane Allman and Aretha in the studio
Aretha Franklin, throughout her career, recorded with stellar jazz and rock musicians. From 1967, when she began her phenomenal run of hit R&B singles on Atlantic Records under producer and Atlantic VP Jerry Wexler, through 1969, she had three memorable moments with equally memorable guitarists, two of whom became iconic in their own right.
Aretha Franklin, who died today at 76 after on-off health issues, was descended from musical royalty that determined the direction of her life. Though born in Memphis, daughter of Mississippi Delta-born Reverend C. L. Franklin, she made her name in Detroit, where her father became a per-eminent African-American preacher and social activist, his sermons so charismatic some were released on record. Realizing his daughter's talents, he supported her desire to sing, so much so that she made her first gospel album at 14, for JVB Records, the same label that released his own sermons.
It's impossible to hit everyone's favorites here, so I've tried to honor history with some memorable live performances.
1980: Aretha with Matt Murphy in the movie The Blues Brothers. He played her guitarist-husband who left their diner to rejoin the Blues Brothers band.
Blues master Matt "Guitar: Murphy's recent death at age 88 didn't get the notice it should have, given his visibility in recent decades. Murphy, a veteran musician who gained notice in the film The Blues Brothers as part of their all-star band, was no latecomer to the blues. He was a native of Sunflower, Mississippi (in the Delta), also the birthplace of bluesman Little Milton Campbell and R&B crooner Jerry Butler.
My survey of the productions of Rick Hall, creator of the Muscle Shoals, Alabama recording scene with his Fame Studios, scene of countless hit records from 1962 on. Hall died of prostate cancer on January 2.
Pioneering soul vocalist Don Covay died January 31 after suffering a stroke. He was 76 and had been recovered from a stroke in 1992. The native of South Carolina, born Donald Randolph in 1938, had a long career as an R&B singer in various 1950's vocal groups after getting his start as part of Little Richard's group.
Half a century ago, Aretha Franklin was a vital new voice in jazz. Her R&B days were looming ahead.
These three clips show her about 1964 in appearances she did on on the now-legendary Steve Allen "Westinghouse Show," a late night syndicated show that competed with Johnny Carson for a few seasons (seen locally on KDKA at 11:30). Allen's madcap, anarchic nature on the show influenced among others, Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Harry Shearer and David Letterman, who adapted some of Allen's stunts to his NBC show.
Aretha had been discovered a few years earlier by John Hammond, the Columbia Records executive and producer responsible for discovering Billie Holiday, Count Basie, jazz guitar innovator Charlie Christian and Bob Dylan (he'd later discover Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughan). He saw her as primarily a jazz artist at the time. Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records, would take her in a funkier direction a couple of years later.
Allen, a so-so jazz pianist, gave jazz mainstream TV exposure it didn't otherwise receive at the time. Accordingly, he had a terrific band on his show, led by Donn Trenner. One of its better known members was guitarist Herb Ellis, seen behind Aretha chonking rhythm on his Gibson ES-175. "Won't Be Long" demonstrates her powerful blues delivery, and she does well on the others, both pop standards.
"Won't Be Long."
"Lover Come Back To Me." Her Columbia Dinah Washington tribute album Allen displays before the song confirms this was '64.
"Rock A Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody" Herb Ellis again playing hot in the background.