It’s difficult to find an aspect of popular culture that Hugh Hefner didn’t influence during his long, remarkable life. Spanning journalism, television, film, fashion and, of course, sexuality, his impact on music is one of the least heralded aspects of his legacy. Over the course of two seasons, Hefner used his weekly syndicated variety show, Playboy After Dark, as a platform for a broad spectrum of artists.
Psychedelic sounds from San Fransisco (courtesy of the Grateful Dead), early heavy metal (provided by Deep Purple), country-tinged balladeers (thanks to Linda Ronstadt and the Byrds) and old-school crooners (like the incomparable Tony Bennett) all mingled in the living room of Hef’s penthouse—recreated on a CBS soundstage in Los Angeles. Mostly importantly, the publishing giant used his outlet to give equal airtime to African-American artists, allowing Ike and Tina Turner, James Brown, B.B. King and Motown’s Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson an all-too-rare opportunity to share their talent and message with the country.
Following Hefner’s death at age 91 on Wednesday, we’re talking a look back at some of the most electrifying performances from the short-lived Playboy After Dark.
1. Ike & Tina Turner, “I Want to Take You Higher,” “Come Together” and “Proud Mary” (Dec. 3, 1969)
Fresh off a tour with the Rolling Stones, the Turners brought their entire revue—not to mention Tina’s trademark gold-fringed flapper dress—out to Hef’s pad. A bombastic intro theme announces their shimmy-powered arrival before Tina launches into Sly Stone’s recent hit. Over a decade into their showbiz career, the act excelled at turning up the heat on their covers, making even a ubiquitous Beatles smash their very own. Their breakneck version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” damn near sets the penthouse ablaze.