Wattstax: 30th Anniversary Special Edition
Cross this off the “Finally, it’s on DVD” list. This 1973 concert documentary is one of the most under-appreciated concert docs of all time. Some even called it “The Black Woodstock,” but Wattstax didn’t need three hours to tell its tale.
To commemorate the anniversary of the Watts uprising (uptight white folks call it a riot), the Stax label organized a benefit concert at the L.A. Coliseum with its roster. There are great performances from The Staple Singers, The Bar-Kays, Albert King, Luther Ingram, Johnnie Taylor, Rufus Thomas and, of course, Isaac Hayes. All of these artists, like the label at the time, were in their prime.
Not satisfied with just the music, director Mel Stuart (this dude directed Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory) takes his cameras into the Watts community and lets the people (including a pre-Love Boat Ted Lange and That Guy who was Aunt Esther’s husband on Sanford and Son) do the talking about being black in America in the early ’70s. The film also features blips of improvisational comedy from Richard Pryor, which are still way funnier than most of his starring film roles.
DVD extras include complete footage of Albert King’s “I’ll Play The Blues For You” and the original film ending performance by Isaac Hayes, which was filmed separately and cut with actual concert footage due to legal problems with MGM over the rights to music from Shaft. There are two commentaries, including one from Chuck D.
The concert documentaries of the ’60s and ’70s are no more, thanks to cable music channels. Wattstax is an excellent piece of African-American history and culture and nobody can touch the music.
Matthew Socey is host of The Blues House Party and co-host of The Art Of The Matter, both on 90.1 WFYI FM.