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Carla Thomas Unreleased Live Album to be Issued on Stax


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DC four-nighter captured the singer's roots as well as an unseen jazz side. Donny Hathaway led the band and Rufus Thomas provided three songs.

In 1967, Carla Thomas was the undisputed queen of soul. Her hit “B-A-B-Y" had hit No. 3 on Billboard's R&B charts, with her duet with Otis Redding, “Tramp," climbing to No. 2. As part of the Stax/Volt Revue tour of Europe, she had reached a whole new international audience. So when she played what she considered the most important U.S. performance of her career at Washington, D.C.'s prestigious jazz club the Bohemian Caverns, then-Stax president Al Bell and musician Donny Hathaway worked with her to ensure a career-making gig. It was to be her artistic tour de force -- a look back at the singer's R&B roots while pursuing an expansion into jazz.

Yet the album was inexplicably scrapped -- deleted from the release schedule without notice. Finally, in the year of the 50th anniversary and reactivation of Stax Records, Carla Thomas' Live at the Bohemian Caverns will be released, on September 18, 2007. The deluxe CD set contains liner notes by Stax historian Rob Bowman.

According to Al Bell, “(Carla) was wanting to kind of spread her wings and reach over into the jazz/folk world. It was something that was pulling away inside of her." Washington, D.C. was both a jazz hub and home of Thomas' alma mater (she attended Howard University as a graduate student in English). The premiere music venue of its day, the Bohemian Caverns had hosted Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery. For Thomas' four-night stand, Donny Hathway hired the band and worked out a 20-song set that encompassed Tin Pan Alley jazz standards and Broadway tunes. In addition to “B-A-B-Y' and “Gee Whiz" were Irving Berlin's “It's a Lovely Day Today," Johnny Mercer's “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" and “A Lovely Way To Spend an Evening," made a hit by Frank Sinatra.

The effort did not go unnoticed by the Washington Post, which noted: “Young and pretty, she stands a good chance of avoiding the pitfall of becoming a passing fad and maturing into a fine vocalist."

Following her performance, master of ceremonies Al Bell introduced Carla's father, Rufus Thomas, who contributed a few songs of his own in keeping with the jazz milieu. Bowman describes it as “a joy-filled performance that embraces the African American blues tradition and perfectly complements Carla Thomas' more uptown performance of standards."

Meanwhile back in Memphis, the album was shelved. Stax LP catalog number 724 was re- assigned to Booker T & the MGs. Despite the time and expense that had been put into the Bohemian Caverns recording from the top ranks of Stax, the album was never released. No reason was given. Carla Thomas was heartbroken, and remained so well into the '80s when Bowman interviewed her.

Whatever the reasons it was withdrawn at the time, this musically ambitious and career- redefining album will finally make it to the marketplace - 40 years late - on September 18.

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