Review: Donny Hathaway – Live

Donny Hathaway – Live


My first encounter with this album was in a stack of albums at the Door Music Headquarters, or DHQ as we rock journalists refer to it. Flipping through the supply of review albums, I probably would have over-looked it had it not been for the cover, a bad old black cat, teeth clenched, hands clapping, eyes closed – with the words DONNY HATHAWAY written at the top in blue.

With that, I calmly, cooly recollected all the hype I had absorbed on Donny Hathaway – all of it good. Wasting no time, I snatched it up, rushed home and played it.

Remember back in 1969 when the big things was “soul”. Every black from the jugglers on the Sullivan show to the politicians on the Cavett show were asked their definition of “soul”. I still can’t remember anybody answering the question without saying… “Well, Mike, it’s hard to say…”

Hathaway’s music is the first music since Bessie Smith that I feel can fit the classification of soul music. Not just because it comes from the soul of the performer, but because it gets to the soul of the listener – and that’s what counts.

The man sings and plays electric piano, piano and organ with the thumping back-up work of Paul Upchurch and Cornell Dupree on lead guitar, Mike Howard on rhythm guitar, Willie Weeks on bass, and Earl DeRoen on congas.

Recorded live at The Bitter End, and The Troubador, Hathaway uses the audience as a member of his backing. “The Ghetto” and “You’ve got a Friend” exemplify this. On the latter, Hathaway does no pleading with the crowd to join him, but just drops the first phrase, and before he can finish the second, the audience is drowning him out. With this, my man Donny just stops singing and retires to a back-up man for the audience. Just great.

Another terrific aspect of Hathaway is his choice of material. He knows his audience and what they love to hear and experience. In one breath of “Little Ghetto Boy” he can sink the audience into a state of sorrow and pity, and in the next breath he can involve them in a musical soap opera in “We’re Still Friends”.

The LP peaks with “Voices Inside (Everything is Everything)” in which Hathaway “breaks it down into four parts” unveiling all the talent and proficiency of the boys in bake, while retaining the same funky riff.

The band is tight, but not tight. The perfect amount of spontaneity is retained to dispel any feelings in the audience of programmed actions and reactions.

The man has feeling. When he croons in Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” that he “didn’t mean to make you cry”, you know that he didn’t mean to make you cry. After all, all he aims to do is make you happy. The least you could do is pick him up on the offer.

Courtesy of the Door (aka San Diego Door) – Cameron Crowe –  April 13, 1972  – April 27, 1972