It’s Saturday morning and I’m drunk. It wasn’t intentional, I just forgot to eat, and my fridge is full of booze left over from my birthday party two weeks ago. But it’s a good drunk, a happy drunk. The kind of drunk I was when I first fell in love with the album that’s spinning on the turntable behind me, channeling pure soul through my Behringer Truths.
I had gone out with a bunch of friends to the Bigfoot Lodge in Los Feliz, one of my favorite bars on the planet. On the way back we stopped at someone’s friend’s house, and I went straight to the hi-fi stereo system, which happened to be nearly identical to the one I had put together when I was eighteen or so, the one through which I first played most of the best albums the 90s had to offer. The architect of the system was more than happy to show it off.
Every hardcore audiophile has their go-to album to sample the range of a sound system. It’s the one they’ll use most while calibrating for room dynamics, the one they’ll take with them when shopping for an amp or speakers, the one they’ll reach for when music is the only thing that can clear their head after a harrowing day. Mine, for instance, is Dirt, by Alice In Chains. Particularly track four, Down In A Hole. Well, this kid’s was a live Donny Hathaway album, titled simply, Live. He dropped the needle on track two, The Ghetto, and instantly I was completely entranced.
This was a few years ago, and I still can’t find words that do the performance justice. I don’t think it’s possible. It’s pure magic. A seven piece band, sharing one consciousness, playing off one another brilliantly through an epic twelve minutes, climaxing with Hathaway’s genius electric piano solo, followed by an amazing conga drum breakdown from Earl DeRouen before the band goes back into the song, completely on fire, with an enraptured audience screaming along with the final chorus.
Not to be confused with the inferior These Songs For You, Live!, Hathaway’s Live combines performances from two shows, on opposite coasts; Side A was recorded at the Troubadour in Hollywood, and Side B at the Bitter End in New York City. The album was first released in 1972 by ATCO.
The Ghetto is one of only a few Hathaway originals on this album, otherwise a compilation of soul anthems such as Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Carole King’s You’ve Got A Friend, and a version of Jealous Guy that must have knocked John Lennon on his ass.
It took me awhile to track down a copy of the album, as I never even got the name or a look at the cover the night I first heard it. It haunted me as I went through the racks at Amoeba Records in San Francisco. Nothing. So I tried the one in Berkeley, and Rasputin’s down the street. I found some live Hathaway, including These Songs For You, but nothing quite as good as what I’d heard. I checked Lou’s in Encinitas. No luck. Eventually, through process of elimination, I finally figured out which album it was that I was after, got the import CD from Amazon, and scored a copy of the vinyl at the Amoeba in Hollywood one lucky weekend.
Hopefully, you’ll have less trouble.
ATCO (Vinyl LP)
1. What’s Goin’ On
2. The Ghetto
3. Hey Girl
4. You’ve Got A Friend
1. Little Ghetto Boy
2. We’re Still Friends
3. Jealous Guy
4. Voices Inside (Everything Is Everything)
Reviews published prior to February 23, 2015 used a 1-5 star rating system.