Play me some Otis Redding
Happy birthday to Mr. Otis Redding, the patron saint of soulful southern gorgeousness in music (in my mind, he's the one and only). Born September 9, 1941 in Dawson, Georgia, he would have been 65 today. Redding died in a plane crash just three days after recording "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay," which would come to be likely his best-known contribution to the American musical lexicon.
Do you realize that his recording career only lasted seven years? Although he grew up singing, his first professional tracks were laid down in 1960 with the group Otis and The Shooters, and he died in 1967 at the age of 26; only seven years and such an impact in music.
In addition to being completely floored by the body of work that he left behind --so many of his songs just absolutely slay me in the best way possible-- I've always felt a bit of a fond connection with Otis because our families both come from the same town of Macon, Georgia. My Grampy was born in Macon, the son of a Baptist minister, and Otis moved there at the age of 5 with his Baptist minister daddy as well.
Macon is a city of (currently) about 325,000 people (although it was less than half that in the '40s) southeast of Atlanta. In 2002, Macon unveiled a commemorative statue to Otis in Gateway Park, recognizing his impact as one of their best-known native sons. When Otis was growing up he attended and sang in the choir at the Vineville Baptist Church.
I asked my Grampy about the Redding family and he replied via email (but picture him saying all this in his deep Southern drawl because this is how he actually speaks);
"That is all familiar geographic territory for me but I do not know the name, Otis Redding. My Dad's sister, Ruth, was a member of the Vineville Baptist Church where this young man sang. I lived in Macon in 1946 when he first moved there and I attended the Vineville Church at times with my Aunt Ruth and her husband, Frank.
I also remember the Roxy Theater in Macon and Nell and I went there a few times. I was still a student then (1943) and we had very little money in those days and a milk shake and a waffle was our idea of a big night out. It probably cost at least 50¢. Movies were only 25¢. Nell was the Post Mistress at Mercer and she was paid $50 per month. She also ran the university book store! I drove a mail truck making the evening pickups from all the mail boxes in one section of Macon. My route took me by the apartment where we lived and I often stopped there and Nell would climb into the back of the truck (quite illegal!) and I would drive back to the post office, dropping her off at a nearby cafe where we later had a milk shake and a waffle.
So, your question brings back a few memories but none about Otis!
I smile when I picture the possibility of my Grampy sitting in a church pew next to a little Otis Redding, completely unaware (even to this day) who he was or his contributions to music.
Oh, play me some Otis Redding. The time is always right :
Tramp - Otis Redding
Before a friend of mine completely blew my mind with this song last year, I naively had no idea that Otis could rock it like this. One often remembers his slow songs, his soulful raspy wailing grooves, but the drumbeat alone in this is enough to make anyone get up and shake it. Add the brass and it's just almost too much for one to bear. And I love the lyrics, the playful give and take between Otis and Carla Thomas, the female co-lead;
"Carla: You're straight from the Georgia woods!
Otis: That's gooooooood."
But the best part of this song is beyond words; it's at 0:52 when Carla launches into the allegations against Otis (he needs a haircut, he wears overalls) and Otis just lacks the words to respond to her allegations so he just trails off into a trademark "oooh...." - It must be heard to be understood, but it's my favorite part of the song.
A Change Is Gonna Come - Otis Redding
Even though this is Sam Cooke's song, and Sam caresses it with his silky pipes, I vastly prefer Otis' version (recorded in the Spring of 1965). This version fairly drips with aching as Otis sings about the thick swelter of racial oppression in the South. You can almost feel and see the tension, like heat rising up off the August sidewalks.
You Left The Water Running - Otis Redding
From the intro: "-Two - one, two, ready, play" this song combines uptempo soulful grooves with lonely musings in the best tradition of all the "she done left me" tunes. I love the title lyric, the unfinished imagery of water left running and all the metaphors you can associate with that rushing, wasted splashing.
Satisfaction - Otis Redding
Monterey Pop Festival, 1967
This performance at the legendary watershed event of the Monterey Pop Festival was one of Redding's last big shows, as he died in December of this same year. Some call this the performance of his career, captured on a record I own which pairs a (literally) incendiary set from Jimi Hendrix (recognize this picture from the event?) with Redding's. I picked this up on vinyl from the famed stacks at Amoeba Music in San Francisco, it is one of the best records I own. Here's a cool scan from the back:
Cigarettes & Coffee - Otis Redding
I wrote in an earlier post that "The Blower's Daughter" by Damien Rice was the best 3am song ever written. Well, as Otis says in the lyrics here: "It's early in the morning . . . about a quarter to three. I'm sittin' here talkin' with my baby, over cigarettes and coffee." This is therefore the best 2:45am song ever written - it's smoky and sleepless, all sorts of restlessness and beautiful insomnia tied up in these notes.
Listening To Otis Redding At Home During Christmas - Okkervil River
A really lovely song from modern Austin, TX indie band Okkervil River, with various images that evoke home -- one of which is Otis Redding: "Home is where beds are made, and butter is added to toast . . . I know that it's home 'cos that's where the stereo sings." Then it kicks into the chorus, which masterfully blends in the Redding refrain, "I've got dreams . . . dreams to remember" and made me smile wide the first time I listened to it one night in bed, in the dark.
Just Like A Woman - Bob Dylan
Just since we are on a Dylan kick around here lately (see last post), there is an interesting Otis-related story attached to this song. According to Mickey Jones (drummer of The Band), Dylan had played this freshly-written song once for Redding, who loved it and expressed the desire to record it himself as soon as possible. He died before he could do it, but every time I hear Dylan's factual delivery in this song, I half picture Otis wailing it instead. Redding also recorded "Respect" first, before Aretha busted it out as her trademark tune.
(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay - Pearl Jam
3/26/94 in Murfreesboro, TN
And come on, you knew I'd work Pearl Jam into this somehow. This was the one and only time they've ever played this song live (complete with whistling) and did it with the help of co-author of the tune, Steve Cropper (of Booker T. & The MGs).
How good is all that? (that's a rhetorical question). Pick yourself up some Otis Redding if you don't have any, and head over to rbally to pick up the insanely good live set from 1966 at the famed Whisky-A-Go-Go.
Thanks Otis, you beautiful soul, you.