Curtis Mayfield – Curtis/Live!

You know what sucks about Curtis Mayfield…aside from the fact that he’s dead?

What sucks is that a man with such talent and skill is only known for one album.  Really, most act as if he simply appeared, made “Superfly,” and promptly disappeared from the face of the earth.

This isn’t to imply that “Superfly” isn’t a superior album, because it is.  What bothers me is that it’s a poor representation of a much larger and more expansive career.  I find it reminiscent of the people who claim to be Bob Marley fans, but only own “Legend.”

Most people are unaware that Curtis’s career started in 1956, when he dropped out of High School to join The Roosters with the Brooks brothers, Richard and Arthur, and Jerry Butler.  It was two years later that they would become The Impressions when they added Sam Gooden to their line up.  When Butler left the group, Curtis suddenly found himself the lead singer and began composing for the band, a talent that would become his vocation for the rest of his career since he ended up being extremely good at it.

Mayfield also became known for his falsetto singing style and unique guitar tuning.  Word has it that he tuned his guitar to the open F-sharp of the black piano keys, giving him a sound that set him apart from th rest of the pack.  Why?  Because he was a bad ass!

As the sixties moved on, The Impressions gained in popularity due to Mayfield’s ability to infuse his work with social commentary. He also began to extend his songwriting career, penning hits for Jerry Butler and The 5 Stairsteps to name a few.  And to top it all off, he was now the owner of the Mayfield and Windy C labels.

Curtis Mayfield was a one man music industry.

In 1970 Mayfield left The Impressions and started yet another label, called Curtom, that would become home to such soul luminaries as The Staple Singers, Leroy Hutson and Baby Huey as well as releasing Mayfield’s solo works…like “Superfly.”

But before all that happened, Curtis played at New York’s Bitter End Club in 1971 and released his first live recording from the tapes.  Accompanied by a stripped down band and playing in such an intimate setting allows Mayfield’s work to shine in a way that nearly eclipses the work he would continue to do in the years leading up to that tragic accident that would leave him paralyzed for the rest of his life.

Consisting of songs written both for his years with The Impressions and material from his first solo work “Curtis” (released a year earlier,) “Curtis/Live” brims with a warmth and intimacy that most acoustic sets can only hope to achieve. Songs like ‘Stare and Stare,’ ‘Gypsy Woman’ and ‘Mighty Mighty’ find new life outside of their original orchestral arrangements and draw you into the experience like you were there at The Bitter End yourself.

Originally released as a double LP set with 12 tracks, the 2000 re-release on Rhino felt it necessary to add bonus tracks that included ‘Superfly’ as if to remind people who they were listening to.

But after listening to this album, you’ll never need reminding again.


2 Responses to “Curtis Mayfield – Curtis/Live!”

  1. 1 oldschoolfunker
    January 18, 2009 at 5:34 am

    I hear what your saying, respect, Curtis was a true legend who produced some truly amazing songs, he was one of the main pioneers of funk and also a champion for civil rights. RIP Curtis, never forgotten.

  2. 2 T. Evans
    October 2, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    I have been trying to fine a site with Curtis Mayfield’s Gospel album called “Curtis Mayfield-Gospel”. So far, it has not been included on any site with his complete(?) discography. Could you direction? This is the only album that I do not have. Help. Looking to sample it not purchase it at this time.

    Thanks in advance!

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