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.