Friday, October 15, 2010

Evolution/Revolution: The Early Years (1966-1974) [2005]

I came across this one by accident at Circuit City in November of 2005, and I didn't even know it was out. I picked it up and was amazed that not only did it consist of a lot of early stuff, but was endorsed by Richard himself. The 2-CD set went to the cash-register with me.

It's divided into two distinct halves: the early, experimental years of 1966-68, and the "street humor" years of 1971-74, where he finally sheds off his old skin and became the Richard Pryor we all knew and loved.

Disc One opens with Richard at the hungry i in San Francisco, sounding like any ordinary standup comedian of the times, relating safe, sanitized tales of growing up in Peoria, but the audience seems to be merely tolerating him. Then the set veers between sets recorded at P.J.'s and the Troubadour, but this time in vastly sound-improved and unedited routines that came from some of the Laff albums. And then some of them were different versions altogether, making them a real treat. It was great to hear "Hank's Place" unedited, which is a revelation; he gets a major round of applause when he does his imitation of Black Irma, which was well-deserved. Plus, his classic fire-and-brimstone preacher bit, and the old-timer relating tales whilst forgetting directions to Highway 16.

Disc Two consists mostly of Craps (After Hours) , which was a little disappointing (I would have preferred more unreleased stuff), but the sound is a lot cleaner here, and a major improvement, even for something that was poorly recorded to begin with. Then it has the "Wattstax" monolouge, uncut and unedited, which has some great bits throughout it. My favorite part is an alternate version of "Super Nigger", especially the part where Supe takes his sweet time choosing what kind of crime-fighting gear he's going to wear that day while disaster is happening.

The real piece of treasure for me was "Street Corner Wino" (recorded at The Comedy STore in 1973), in which the street wino has a conversation with one of the local hoods, who tells him the story of how he robbed and beat up a white farmer guy looking for some easy tail in the alley. It's so outrageously hilarious that it's easily the funniest thing Richard ever laid down on tape. I won't give away any of the story have to hear it to believe it.

On December 1st, I e-mailed Richard, wishing him a happy birthday, telling him about the new CD, and thanking him for all of the great laughs I had listening to his albums and watching his movies over the last 25 years. I like to think that he got it and read it, but I guess I'll never know. He left us nine days later.

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