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The Death—and Life—of Otis Redding

 

How old was Otis Redding when he recorded “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay?” It’s one of those songs that feels like it’s packed with life experience. It’s been a lot of places and seen a lot of things and now it’s time to rest.

It sounds like the song of an older man. The feeling is only enhanced by our knowledge the song was released a little more than a month after he died. It would be the first song on the American charts released posthumously to go to number one, where it remained for four weeks in the spring of 1968.

To answer the question, Otis Redding was 26 when the song was recorded.

It was recorded in two sessions, on November 22, 1967 and December 7, 1967. And he died on December 10, 1967 in a plane crash near Madison, WI while on tour with the Bar-Kays 50 years ago today.

We’ve spent all year on 50th anniversaries for rock events and, just like my earlier Merle Haggard post, I wanted to include music that isn’t rock. The world of music is bigger than rock, even in 1967.

Otis Redding was born in Georgia, the son of a sharecropper. As a child, he showed an early interest in music. As the oldest son (though fourth out of six children), he had to leave school at the age of 15 to work. Some of it was physical labor and some was trying to make money from talent show prizes. He would play the chitlin circuit, but got his big break in 1962, when he drove a friend to an audition for Atlantic Records at Stax Studios in Memphis. The friend’s session didn’t go so well, but Redding got to perform two songs, including “These Arms of Mine.” He was signed and scored his first hit.

Otis’s popularity would build over two albums released in 1964 and 1965. But it was the late 1965 release of Otis Blue that really launched him. I could go on about this album. It has to be a contender for the greatest soul album of all time.

Although dominated by covers, he has three originals on there. One is the opening track, “Ole Man Trouble”:

Aretha Franklin is most famous for the song, but Otis Redding wrote “Respect” and the song appears for the first time on this album.

And he co-wrote “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” The Rolling Stones would record a version later. (The Rolling Stones covered a lot of songs that Otis Redding sang.)

There are several covers, including three songs by Sam Cooke. In some ways, I think of him as the heir of Sam Cooke. Not as smooth, but more intense.

I mentioned that the Stones covered “I’ve Been Loving You.” Otis covered “Satisfaction.” Mick Jagger took great pride that Redding covered his song:

Over the course of 1966, Redding started to develop a following in Europe, where he would eventually tour. He also released Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul. It was his last studio record while he was a live, but it’s a classic.

I think it is most famous for “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)”:

He also does a very impressive version of The Beatles’ “Day Tripper.” He is an amazing interpreter of songs. He makes the song his own.

Through 1966 and 1967, he was looking to crossover to white audiences, particularly to rock fans. He was the closing act of night two for the Monterey Pop Festival.

The Monterey Pop performance was considered a huge success and it was hoped he would continue to build on it. But the moment was all too brief. Within six months, he was gone in that plane crash.

I also wanted to spotlight two songs that he wrote that I didn’t realized were his. One was written for a protégé, Arthur Conley, “Sweet Soul Music.”

Another was a song that Redding recorded but was not released until after his death. I had no idea that Otis Redding wrote “Hard to Handle.”

I want to close out with the song that was his most popular during his lifetime, “Try a Little Tenderness.” It’s also from Complete and Unbelievable. It’s an old song, going back to the 1930s. Its publishers were not keen to let Redding take a crack at it for reasons that had more than a little to do with race. It is no small irony that the song remains famous not just for Baby Boomers, but thanks to John Hughes, for Gen-Xers, because of Otis Redding. Here’s the clip from the movie Pretty in Pink. Take it away, Ducky:

Rest in peace, Otis. Your time was brief, your influence was long.

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There are 17 comments.

  1. Inactive

    It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact he was so young. All of his music sounds so much older, so lived in. Puts into perspective the enormity of the loss considering how much more he could have accomplished. I feel the same way about Jim Croce who was 30 and just entering the public consciousness he died.

    • #1
    • December 9, 2017 at 9:10 pm
    • 11 likes
  2. Member

    I really enjoyed this post. Thanks, @quinntheeskimo.

    Nobody does Dock of the Bay like Otis Redding. His voice sliding up in the Monterrey Pop Festival performance clip of Been Loving You Too Long is pure #OtisSoul.

    • #2
    • December 9, 2017 at 10:34 pm
    • 4 likes
  3. Member

    “Live in Europe” — wow!! The audience response just adds to the music.

    • #3
    • December 10, 2017 at 3:19 am
    • 1 like
  4. Member

    And you know who was slated to open for Otis Redding that fateful night? The Grim Reapers. Whose members included Rick Nielsen and Tom Petersson – who would later go on to form Cheap Trick.

    • #4
    • December 10, 2017 at 8:22 am
    • 5 likes
  5. Member
    Quinn the Eskimo Post author

    Little My (View Comment):
    “Live in Europe” — wow!! The audience response just adds to the music.

    Since I started the post, I have been thinking that I need an Otis live album.

    • #5
    • December 10, 2017 at 1:54 pm
    • Like
  6. Member
    Quinn the Eskimo Post author

    Doctor Bass Monkey (View Comment):
    It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact he was so young. All of his music sounds so much older, so lived in.

    Otis Redding was younger than Sam Cooke when he died. Cooke sounds younger than 33 and Redding sounds way older than 26.

    • #6
    • December 10, 2017 at 2:32 pm
    • 1 like
  7. Member

    There’s a crummy movie called Duets, the best moment of which is a performance of Tenderness by Paul Giamatti and Andre Braugher:

    • #7
    • December 10, 2017 at 7:00 pm
    • 3 likes
  8. Member

    Quinn the Eskimo: Another was a song that Redding recorded but was not released until after his death. I had no idea that Otis Redding wrote “Hard to Handle.”

    Wow, I didn’t know either. The Black Crowes barely changed it. In fact, their style sounds very similar… probably inspired. Hendrix is similar as well.

    • #8
    • December 10, 2017 at 7:14 pm
    • 2 likes
  9. Member
    Quinn the Eskimo Post author

    Aaron Miller (View Comment):
    Wow, I didn’t know either. The Black Crowes barely changed it. In fact, their style sounds very similar… probably inspired. Hendrix is similar as well.

    I love learning this stuff. I usually start writing knowing a fair amount and then I find a bunch of surprises. That’s always the most exciting this. He was so great at covering songs that it’s easy to forget that he was a great writer of songs too.

    • #9
    • December 10, 2017 at 8:15 pm
    • 3 likes
  10. Member

    So which dock was it? Here’s two theories. They both make good reading.

    http://www.marinscope.com/sausalito_marin_scope/opinion/sausalito-historical-society-sittin-at-which-dock-of-the-bay/article_9ae6cf2a-3f5f-57bb-b57e-0709d4e4b994.html

    • #10
    • December 10, 2017 at 10:47 pm
    • 3 likes
  11. Coolidge

    if you want to see something grizzly, a picture of the frozen body stuck to the seat is on the internet

    not enough is said that most of the Bar Kays (of “Soul Finger” fame) also died in that crash

    • #11
    • December 11, 2017 at 6:27 am
    • 1 like
  12. Member
    Quinn the Eskimo Post author

    Matty Van (View Comment):
    So which dock was it? Here’s two theories. They both make good reading.

    http://www.marinscope.com/sausalito_marin_scope/opinion/sausalito-historical-society-sittin-at-which-dock-of-the-bay/article_9ae6cf2a-3f5f-57bb-b57e-0709d4e4b994.html

    It’s really well written. But the only dock that matters is the one is conjures in your mind. It’s a place of serenity that you just don’t find in the real world.

    • #12
    • December 11, 2017 at 7:28 am
    • 2 likes
  13. Member
    Quinn the Eskimo Post author

    JeffHawkins (View Comment):
    if you want to see something grizzly, a picture of the frozen body stuck to the seat is on the internet

    not enough is said that most of the Bar Kays (of “Soul Finger” fame) also died in that crash

    And one for the Bar Kays. I love this song.

    • #13
    • December 11, 2017 at 7:30 am
    • 2 likes
  14. Member

    Quinn the Eskimo:How old was Otis Redding when he recorded “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay?” It’s one of those songs that feels like it’s packed with life experience. It’s been a lot of places and seen a lot of things and now it’s time to rest.

    My theory is that the form and aesthetics of the genre create the expressive quality of the piece, and that the performing artist is resting on his ability to capture the form’s expression. So it’s not that Otis Redding had all that life experience to express, but that the song and form did it for him. What you’re hearing that sounds like his experience is Redding’s craft as a performer to understand the form and articulate it.

    • #14
    • December 11, 2017 at 12:05 pm
    • 3 likes
  15. Member

    Couple things to note. “Dock of the Bay” is an audible departure from Redding’s horn-driven soul sound. Apparently, after Monterey, he said he didn’t know if kids were going to be following more traditional pop music much longer, so he thought he’d try and write something more in the folky idiom that was gaining popularity. And did, allegedly with a guitar on the bus.

    Second, in the world of Otis covers, the Commitments’ cover of “Try a Little Tenderness” is worthy of note. They blow the doors off, and do not shy from the, let’s say, subtext.

    • #15
    • December 11, 2017 at 12:24 pm
    • 2 likes
  16. Member
    Quinn the Eskimo Post author

    Manny (View Comment):
    My theory is that the form and aesthetics of the genre create the expressive quality of the piece, and that the performing artist is resting on his ability to capture the form’s expression. So it’s not that Otis Redding had all that life experience to express, but that the song and form did it for him. What you’re hearing that sounds like his experience is Redding’s craft as a performer to understand the form and articulate it.

    But he did co-write the song. So it’s not only his ability as a performer, but his ability as a writer. Which is one of the themes of this post. His songwriting is really impressive. Almost underrated.

    • #16
    • December 11, 2017 at 8:52 pm
    • 2 likes
  17. Member

    Quinn the Eskimo (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):
    My theory is that the form and aesthetics of the genre create the expressive quality of the piece, and that the performing artist is resting on his ability to capture the form’s expression. So it’s not that Otis Redding had all that life experience to express, but that the song and form did it for him. What you’re hearing that sounds like his experience is Redding’s craft as a performer to understand the form and articulate it.

    But he did co-write the song. So it’s not only his ability as a performer, but his ability as a writer. Which is one of the themes of this post. His songwriting is really impressive. Almost underrated.

    Good point.

    • #17
    • December 12, 2017 at 6:23 am
    • 1 like