A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Welcome to our series highlighting the music we have here at Thomas Ford Memorial Library. Each week of 2013 we will discuss one of our favorite songs from the collection. Classical or Country, Hip-Hop or Heavy Metal, we’ll be blogging for every taste.
Sure, sometimes alternate takes at the end of classic re-releases are interesting or illuminating. Sometimes I’ll even allow them on my iPod with the album proper. But how often do they actually compete with the master take? In my opinion this track is the exception that makes the rule. What’s most remarkable about “I Can’t Quit You Baby (Take 3)” is that the master take isn’t some throwaway to be easily improved upon—it’s one of the fundamental recordings of Chicago blues.
In the late fifties and early sixties a group of young guitarists that included Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, and Luther Allison pioneered a new sound that’s sometimes known as west side soul. Their R&B influenced vocals and prodigious single note guitar work took the blues even further out of the delta than Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf had just a few years before. I’m sure there is plenty of room for argument, but in my opinion Otis Rush is the best of the west siders. His voice is strong enough to compete with both Magic Sam and Luther Allison, and his guitar playing is a step above them all—yup, even Buddy Guy.
The Willie Dixon penned “I Can’t Quit You Baby” is his signature song, and really, the signature song for the whole sub-genre of west side soul. Rush first recorded it in Chicago in the summer of 1956. It’s been covered countless times, most famously on Led Zeppelin’s first album, and its bare bones arrangement of walking bass, slow shuffle, and fiery lead instruments trading licks is the template for so much music that came after it.
So how can the abandoned 3rd take compete with such an iconic slab of Chicago musical history? Well, for one it’s simply more intense. But it also gives us a completely different take on the song, more in the Muddy Waters/Howlin’ Wolf vein than the master. Rush’s vocals are more impassioned and his guitar playing is as fierce as ever, but far more buried in the mix. The band itself takes a bigger role and seems inspired by Otis’ passion to work towards a crescendo that’s missing in the master take. Meanwhile, Big Walter Horton’s harmonica, Wayne Bennett’s 2nd guitar, and Red Holloway’s tenor sax are more upfront and all playing at the same time, lending a plaintive and occasionally dissonant sound to the whole arrangement. All of these elements combine to make something truly powerful, even transcendent.
So, why wasn’t it the chosen master take? Well, let’s be honest, it’s just not 1956 single material, and wouldn’t really be single material today either. It’s raw and wild and even a bit harsh on the ears at times. I like to think it’s much closer to what I would have heard had I been around to frequent those west side clubs in 1956. If only…
Review by Matthew