Carla Thomas: Live at the Bohemian Caverns

By James Calemine

Recorded live at the Bohemian Caverns in Washington, D.C. on May 25, 1967, this Carla Thomas CD serves as timeless testimony to her golden voice. Carla Thomas, daughter of the Memphis entertainer Rufus Thomas, sang at the zenith of her career at the time of this performance.

Carla already enjoyed hits by covering songs by Isaac Hayes, David Porter, Lowell Fulson, Eddie Floyd and Otis Redding. Carla penned her own hit with “Gee Whiz”, earning her the title “The Queen of Soul”.

These songs find Carla exploring jazz music driven by Donny Hathaway’s piano. She decided to work with the great tragic talent of Hathaway (he hired the musicians and served as bandleader) and they covered songs made popular on Tin Pan Alley and Broadway. STAX Records pulled out all the stops for this show. All the main players such as Otis Redding, Al Bell, Jim Stewart, Estelle Axton and Phil Walden (Otis Redding’s manager) turned out to watch this performance.

Rufus Thomas performed five songs “Rufus Dialogue #1”, “Fine And Mellow”, “Did You Ever Love A Woman”, “Rufus Dialogue #2” and “The Dog” at the end of his daughter’s set. Carla’s performance opens with “You’re Gonna Hear From Me”. Carla sings a medley of “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”, “A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening”, “It’s A Lovely Day Today” and “On A Clear Day”. She sings the Brazilian tune “Mas Que Nada” in Portuguese.  Her hit “Gee Whiz” proves the depth and scope of Carla’s talent.

“Evening” cross pollinates soul, jazz and R&B into one cohesive sound that transcends all boundaries serving as the centerpiece of this recording. Carla’s rendition of the Hayes/Porter classic, “B-A-B-Y” alone proves this performance is worth seeking out. Carla dedicates the song “Many Many Thanks” “to all the losers”, which ranks with some of those old Billie Holiday recordings.

Carla closes the set with a Donny Hathaway song titled “Never Be True” that is so smooth it serves as a musical sedative to the soul. Carla considered this recording her most important performance in the United States.

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