Jimmy Witherspoon Featuring Robben Ford
Live at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2008, Volume 15, #11
Written by John Metzger
Mon November 3, 2008, 06:30 AM CST
After his emergence with Jay McShann’s band in the 1940s, Jimmy Witherspoon spent the rest of his career oscillating in and out of fashion. Nevertheless, he always was a favorite among those who performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival, and his 1972 appearance at the event — which has been reproduced almost in its entirety on the aptly titled outing Live at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival — provides a good indication why, at least initially. With a fresh, young band in tow, one that was designed to capitalize upon the electric blues resurgence that had occurred in the preceding years, Witherspoon delivered a set list that ran the gamut from his early hit single Ain’t Nobody’s Business What I Do to a stampeding cover of the Jerry Leiber-Mike Stoller composition Kansas City.
Clearly, Witherspoon was reinvigorated by the tenacity and forceful drive that his outfit exhibited. Nevertheless, he also nearly was upstaged by guitarist Robben Ford, who pushed Witherspoon at every turn. On an elongated rendition of Goin’ Down Slow, in particular, Ford answered the weariness in Witherspoon’s voice with a blistering solo that summoned and framed all of the mournful anguish inherent in the tune. Elsewhere, Ford’s stinging lead joined together with the driving beat of I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town to paint a portrait of gleefully defiant independence, while on S.K. Blues, he struck a softer, more alluring pose.
After a jaunty romp through Walkin’ By Myself, however, Live at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival begins to go awry. With his performance relegated to an afternoon slot, Witherspoon was on stage for barely 20 minutes when the curtain began to close. Not yet ready to concede the spotlight, Witherspoon protested angrily and, when nothing changed, he repeatedly yelled, "I’ll cut it! I’ve got my knife!"
Witherspoon’s tirade undeniably supplied the Monterey Jazz Festival with a truly uncomfortable moment, and even in hindsight, it continues to hang like a weight around the remainder of his set, most of which was performed with his band on the wrong side of the curtain. Although he tried to put the incident behind him — first by paying tribute to Jimmy Rushing and then by tackling a pair of his own tunes (Early One Morning and Reds and Whiskey), Witherspoon and his outfit fell in and out of synch, never quite recovering from the chaotic spectacle that had taken place. Perhaps to temper the madness, When I Been Drinkin’ — which was taken from Witherspoon’s 1959 performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival with a collective that featured Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, and Ben Webster, among others — has been tacked onto the end of the endeavor. It, too, fails to find traction in the wake of his outburst, though it also could be an attempt to provide a humorous explanation for it.
Other Monterey Jazz Festival CDs
Live at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival is available
from Barnes & Noble. To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box