Certain Songs #1405: Otis Redding – “I Can’t Turn You Loose (Whisky a Go-Go 04-1966)”

Album: Live on The Sunset Strip
Year: 1966

The longtime readers — OK, reader — of this blog will have noticed that I like to go through an artist’s oeuvre in chronological order, because I’m often telling a story of that artist’s career post by post. In the case of Otis Redding, who was only a recording artist for a few years before he died, it’s a bit more difficult.

After all, Otis — or his estate, I guess — put out nearly as many albums in the three years after he died as he’d put out in the three years prior. Obviously, all of that music was recorded prior to December, 1967, but as we move forward, I’m going to respect the release dates for the studio albums, not the recording dates.

It’s totally different for the live stuff, though: Live in Europe was both recorded and released in 1967, while In Person at The Whisky A-Go-Go was recorded in 1966 but wasn’t released until the year after his death and his Monterey Pop performance wasn’t released until 1970. It gets even more complicated: in 1993, they put out a second disc of Whisky A-Go-Go performances called Good To Me — which is where this version of “I Can’t Turn You Loose” came — and in 2010, the even more expanded Live on the Sunset Strip came out, and finally in 2016, 50 years later, they put out the complete performances.

Somewhat convoluted, to say the least. So for the live songs I’m writing about, I’ve decided to slot them in based on the performance dates, which in this case was April of 1966.

I’m not going to lie: like a lot of white teens of the 1970s, the first version of “I Can’t Turn You Loose” I ever heard was by the godsdammed Blues Brothers, with whom my relationship has always been complicated. I kinda enjoyed them on Saturday Night Live, though they always seemed like a total indulgence, but I never could stand Briefcase Full of Blues, not because I was particularly woke or worried about cultural appropriation at 16, but because I didn’t care for Belushi or Ackroyd’s vocals.

But I fucking loved The Blues Brothers film in all of its messy excessive glory, and watching James Brown, Aretha Franklin & especially Cab Calloway do their things absolutely opened my ears to a lot of music that was hitherto unfamiliar to me.

In any event, this version of “I Can’t Turn You Loose” is utterly smoking, riding the big corkscrew bassline of Ralph Edwards and relentless drums of Elbert Woodson, whose names are probably unfamiliar because they aren’t Booker T & The MGs, who usually didn’t tour with Otis, but feature on both Live in Europe and Monterey Pop, leaving the impression that they always did.

But in fact, Otis had a different touring band, and so Live on the Sunset Strip is actually closer to what people would see when they saw Otis Redding perform in the mid-1960s: often longer and looser versions of his songs, with long vamps by his band as Otis improvised lyrics and sounds, tossing in other people’s songs, repeating himself with increasing force and delirium as the bass and drums speed forward and the horns blast.

Like a lot of my favorite live Otis, it’s a full-blown explosion of energy and power that feels like it could go on forever, and I always kinda hope it does, and and always surprised by the quick drum roll that smashes it to an end.

I Can’t Turn You Loose (Whisky A-Go-Go, 04-1966)

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