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Reunion concert spans Atlantic Record label pays a proud tribute to its legends


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Reunion concert spans Atlantic Record label pays a proud tribute to its legends

Chicago Sun-Times - May 22, 1988

Author: Dave Hoekstra

Reunion concert spans Altantic - Record label pays a proud tribute to its legends

Chicago Sun-Times - May 22, 1988

Author: Dave Hoekstra

NEW YORK The music came in from the cold.

After living on artistic outskirts for 20 years because of serious heart and respiratory ailments, 58-year-old rhythm and blues singer LaVern Baker swirled about in a proud storm of black and silver sequins at the Atlantic Records 40th anniversary party last weekend at Madison Square Garden. Supported by the Paul Shaffer house band and a trio of powerful background singers, Baker jump-boogied her biggest hit, "Jim Dandy," followed by her compelling 1961 gospel-soaked "Saved."

Her set symbolized the 11-hour concert's sense of redemption.

There were other inspiring artistic revivals during the course of the long day's journey into night. The centerpiece of the anniversary cake was the historic reunion of Led Zeppelin, fueled by the liberating guitar playing of Jimmy Page. But also reuniting for the first time in years were the Rascals, the Coasters, the Bee Gees (who haven't performed together live since 1979) and even those psychedelic Rambos, Vanilla Fudge. Other silver memories were provided by rhythm and blues singer Ruth Brown, the new Blues Brothers featuring Sam Moore (in splendid form) and Dan Aykroyd, and a passionate set from jazz flutist Herbie Mann, with saxophonist Gerald Albright vamping the style of the late King Curtis.

At one time it would have been ironic and unusual for Atlantic Records to pay such a proud tribute to the past. As late as 1986, Atlantic was notorious for its negligent attitude toward the creative and financial welfare of its veteran artists. In 1986, I asked Wilson Pickett about the seven-volume Atlantic Records Rhythm and Blues 1947-74 series. Pickett said he wasn't receiving royalties from volumes 5 and 6 on which his work appeared and added, "It's a low blow and I feel a little bitter."

Two years later, the $10 million to $15 million proceeds from the anniversary party's sponsorship deals and ticket sales (prices ranged from $50 to $1,000, but the Garden still sold out in 41 minutes) will be donated to the newly established Atlantic Records Foundation. The foundation will distribute funds to charities such as Amnesty International, the United Negro College Fund, American Foundation for AIDS Research and the New York Mission Society for the Homeless. Many of the charities were chosen by artists appearing in the show. (More proceeds will come in from a two-hour ABC-TV anniversary concert special scheduled for June 26, and sales of an anniversary concert record, book and videocassette.)

The event also was the catalyst for the debut of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, temporarily chaired by Aykroyd and Judy Belushi. The foundation also will receive proceeds from the event.

The anniversary audience was in search of an identity apart from charity, and they found it in Robert Plant, who delivered two shows - a mid-evening session with his new band (scheduled to hit Poplar Creek in Hoffman Estates on May 28) and a 1 a.m. set with his old band.

The more you hear Plant, the more apparent it is that his still-piercing voice has the same intonation and the grain of the Zeppelin period. The highlight of the early set, which marked his band's American debut, was the unarmed energy of "Tall Cool One," in which Plant's weathered image as a rock 'n' roll poseur didn't detract from the "Whole Lotta Love"-inspired guitar parts from Doug Boyle. (Page plays guitar on the album version of "Tall Cool One.")

Plant returned with his Zeppelin pals - John Paul Jones on bass and keyboards, Page on guitar and on drums, Jason Bonham (the son of original Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, whose alcohol-influenced death in 1980 spelled the end of the band). This time, Page emerged as the conduit for the set's attitude of joy and raw energy.

A former session player at Atlantic, Page displayed the adventure and tension he learned in the always flexible Atlantic studio before he joined the Yardbirds in 1966 as bassist. Anchored by Page's rhythmic leads, Zeppelin opened its set with "Kashmir," followed by the terse power-chord introduction to "Heartbreaker," which segued into "Whole Lotta Love." Page maintained his ebullience on "Misty Mountain Hop" before the band closed its set with "Stairway to Heaven," punctuated at the end by an extended Page solo.

Both Page and Plant appeared to be having a genuinely good time. With a cigarette dangling from his mouth, Page stalked the stage with the jagged lilt of a caged cat, while Plant twirled and kicked a beach ball with the heel of his left shoe. Page obviously was much more in tune with his surroundings than the last time I saw him, in 1986 on the Firm tour (even so, he was that disaster's only highlight). Jason Bonham had no easy task, sitting in for his father, but he took on the drum parts with the appropriate mix of calculated swagger and unabashed sledgehammer. Bonzo would have been proud.

The Zeppelin reunion made for the day's most spiritually powerful moment, but the most soulful periods came from Atlantic's legendary stable of singers. The most notable performance came from Sam Moore, an original member of Sam & Dave. His attitude and career have been sparked by the presence of Aykroyd, who is reshaping the Blues Brothers Band around Moore. But a thousand Dan Aykroyds couldn't influence the essence of Moore's stirring set.

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