Friday, October 22, 2010

"Craps" (After Hours) [1971]

Richard's second album, or, a second "first" album. Although I had heard a few bits from this on Richard Pryor's Greatest Hits, I didn't find a copy of this until 1998, when I found it at Turntable Treasures.

Some say that this is his definitive album, some say he was never better, but I look at it as him shedding his old skin again; almost there, but not quite. He seems to veer between the old shyness, and his new found "street tough" direction.

This was his first (and truly only) Laff album, primarily for the black audience, but this album was notorious even then for its poor recording quality. It was recorded at Redd Foxx's own nightclub in L.A.; I wonder if Redd was there that night and gave Richard some influence.

This album was somewhat of a cash cow for Laff over the next twelve years, with various and flat-out bizarre reissues and repackages. Parts of it were coupled with Redd Foxx routines on Pryor Goes Foxx Hunting and Down And Dirty. And then coupled with bits from Richard & Willie as Richard Pryor Meets Richard & Willie And The S.L.A.!!! Parts of it appeared on Supernigger and was repackaged with a new cover and title as Blackjack.

The first thing you notice when the album starts off is the smoky ambience, and then when Richard is talking, it almost sounds like he has a towel wrapped around his microphone for the whole album side. But once it gets going, it has some great parts. My favorite routine is where he gets busted by the cops at night, who tell him: "Up against the wall!...There is no wall!...Find one!"
There are segments from the "Girls" routine sprinkled throughout side one, and a couple of references on side two. Side one closes with routines on various preachers, namely the hillbilly preachers on the radio who announce a local appearance from God himself, the fire-and-brimstone black preacher, and the local street-preaching wino on the corner (no encounter with the junkie here). Richard tells the anecdote about himself running through a Vegas casino naked, jumping up onto a craps table and shouting "Blackjack!".

Side two is a little more clearer, and has some better routines. I like the bit about the cops breaking up the local guys singing on the street corner, and the guys grumble about it after the cops leave: "Move me!...If I didn't have to go to work in the morning...!", leading to loud laughter. The "Craps" routine is good, but would have a more heartfelt look back at the same situation in "Hank's Place"; actually, this was sort of re-created in the otherwise forgettable Harlem Nights.

The last five minutes of side two find Richard in more universal territory, with some hilarious bits about dope, gays, jerking off, cumming and farting (shades of the first album again). The audience is in hysterics, Richard thanks the audience, and the album is over.

Highly recommended companions to this are Live & Smokin' from April 1971 (three months after the recording of this), and his segments from Dynamite Chicken (1972), both of which overlap and contain a lot of similar material between them. Live & Smokin' was filmed at the Improv in New York in April of 1971, and while it has some funny moments, it's best viewed strictly as a historical document. A lot of fans point out the telling moment where RIchard makes a joke about White guys coming by for a visit at his house (which was a brothel), and the nervous pull on his cigarette afterwards speaks volumes. Also, the audience (whom you don't see) was probably more White than anything else, so their silence also speaks volumes...maybe they just didn't get "street" humor, or his material was just too raw for them to handle. Dynamite Chicken, as noted, features a lot of the same routines, but a lot of fans say Richard was plenty coked out during these segments. Personally, these are the only good parts of the whole cinematic collage, and worth picking up for, but it's a movie that's hard to watch without fist-forwarding through a lot of the other material!

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