I am very proud to announce the release of a new, 2-CD set by Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band called Live at the Haunted House – May 18, 1968. This is “never heard before” material (sort of…I’ll get back to that point in a moment) and is an incredibly rich document of not just the Watts 103rd’s own history, but a snapshot of the Los Angeles R&B scene in the late 1960s.

I wrote the liner notes for both this album and its companion compilation on Rhino Handmade, Puckey Puckey (more on that in a later post). It was an incredibly awarding experience, especially as a follow-up to the equally enriching Betty Davis liners. It wasn’t just an opportunity to research one of my favorite bands and speak to folks like Charles Wright, Melvin Dunlap and James Gadson – it also allowed me to untangle a mystery that’s surrounded the band for over 40 years: just how many Watts Bands were there?

Answer: at least three, with almost completely different personnel. I’ve created this excerpt from the notes that details this history. However, this doesn’t include the second part of the liners – about the Haunted House and historical significance of the May 18th gig – nor any of the incredible images of the band, recovered from the archives. (In other words: get the album. Like all Handmade items, this is limited to 5000 pressings with no other pressings after. Once they’re gone, they’re gone).

Charles Wright and the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band: Do Your Thing/Band Intros + We’re a Winner/I Can’t Turn You Loose
From Live at the Haunted House – May 18, 1968 (Rhino Handmade, 2008)

Here’s the super-condensed history behind this recording: back in the mid-60s, Wright and his band, The Wright Sounds (which would morph into the Watts 103rd Band) had a regular gig at the Haunted House in Hollywood (see this great photo of the Haunted House’s stage). At their shows, they would mostly play a medley of Top 40 R&B hits (especially since the group itself didn’t have much original material recorded at this point). One of the things that makes this live show taping so important, in particular, is that edits from it ended up as songs on Together, the first “real” Watts 103rd Band album.

If you look over the album’s tracklisting as a whole, you’ll find the original, uncut versions of songs from Together such as “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “Stormy Monday.” However, the most significant song recorded that night ended up being an improvised groove following “Funky Broadway” that became “Do Your Thing” after Wright edited it down. During the gig, the “Band Intros” came next and I included that recording too, just for kicks.

The gig ended with a cover of one of my favorite songs by the Impressions: “We’re a Winner” plus a very short reprise of “I Can’t Turn You Loose” before they closed out the night.

Next in the Watts 103rd series: Puckey Puckey: Jams and Outtakes, 1970-1971 plus a monster overview of the recent Rhino UK series of Wright & Watts 103rd, Warner Bros. reissues.

And, oh yeah – there will be a giveaway at the end of all this and the mother-of-all giveaways it shall be!