...we've got the means to make amends. I am lost, I'm no guide, but I'm by your side. (Pearl Jam, Leash)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

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.

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At September 09, 2006 5:55 PM, Blogger Bill-DC said...

Outstanding! Thank you for posting these and the history lesson. I learned a lot about Otis here.

At September 09, 2006 6:34 PM, Blogger heather said...

Thanks ereshkigal! I will add that info right away, I couldn't find that before but I was of course wondering.

At September 09, 2006 7:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Heather, you've outdone yourself. I've been visiting your sit daily (usually at least twice, 'cause you're freakin' prolific) for months now, and I should have known you would be the first (at least, that I've seen) to pay tribute to Otis today. Bless ya for that. And, hopefully not sounding condescending, your grampy's email was one of the sweetest, most REAL things I've read in a long time. Thank you for sharing it, and, happy birthday, Otis. Peace.

At September 09, 2006 10:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Otis, in a word, "untouchable."

Heather, your taste in music is impeccable.

At September 10, 2006 2:22 AM, Blogger Chad said...

Otis is another hero of mine. I just never get tired of his music, ever. Though I do have to say, "Cigarettes and Coffee" might possibly be the best 2am song, or ever 2:30...but one Mr. Elliott Smith wrote the best 2:45am song of all time. It was called "2:45am".

Just sayin.

At September 10, 2006 5:14 AM, Blogger Jax said...

Cigarettes and Coffee is my favorite Otis Redding song. It's so perfect. I really love it so much. My only regret is that I have only been enjoying his music for just a couple of years. Better late than never!

At September 10, 2006 6:46 AM, Blogger Wolfdog said...

I would give Otis the nod at 2:45 over Elliot Smith....and Huey Lewis' Heart Of Rock And Roll....and Wilco's Misunderstood.....and Tom Waits' Ice Cream Man. Quarter To Three seems to be a popular time.

At September 10, 2006 8:46 AM, Blogger heather said...

tdh589, thanks for writing from Macon! It makes me happy to think of someone from where my roots are reading this thing. :)

hazpafis, as you said, at least you know about Otis now! And you have the rest of your life to enjoy him.

and bardo, thanks for writing from Atlanta! There was so many great Otis tracks that I couldn't include in the mix, and Try A Little Tenderness is a great one indeed. I read the wikipedia article on Macon (yay wiki!) and learned about a handful of folks who are either from or based in Macon, like Allman Brothers, Lena Horne, Little Richard and (aw yeah) Young Jeezy. Plus the kazoo was invented in Macon. So there ya go. :))))

At September 10, 2006 10:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just started visiting your site, and it just so happens that my third time here you talk about one of my all time favorite artists (I didn't even know it was his b-day)...needless to say I'll be back again! Thanks for "You Left the Water Running," hadn't heard that one before. Anyone who doesn't have any Otis...a good place to start is Otis Blue

At September 10, 2006 11:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

unbelievable. thanks for the post. i was fascinated by both the Dylan - Redding story and your grampa's contribution. these things are why your blog is a daily ritual for me. thanks again.

At September 10, 2006 12:43 PM, Blogger Holden said...

Otis! Nice job, but you missed one of the best Otis covers ever. The Saints, back in their first-three-album glory days in the mid/late 70s, did a version of "Security" (on their third record _Prehistoric Sounds_) that, I'd dare to say, is even better than the original--funked/jazzed up just a little more. Not necessarily what you'd expect from a band that had more in common with the Stooges, Pistols and MC5 than Otis, but that whole third record (and parts of the second) have sizeable amounts of R&B lurking where you'd least expect it.

At September 10, 2006 1:38 PM, Blogger Lolabola* said...

Love your grampy story. I'm a huge Otis fan, you made my day.

At September 10, 2006 2:51 PM, Blogger heather said...

aaron, I am honored to be a daily ritual. Yay!

At September 10, 2006 3:17 PM, Blogger Don't Need Anything said...

i LOVE otis! i never really realized that his career was so short.

i too picked up that record at a used record store (for 2 bucks!) and its my pride of my record collection.

great post.

At September 10, 2006 10:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great stuff overall on Otis, though I can fill in some blanks on some of the things you wrote. Sorry it's so long, but you might find it interesting.

"You Left The Water Running" was actually a bootleg for years, as he never officially recorded it for release. The track was done as a favor for its authors to present to Wilson Pickett to cut, which Pickett did. In other words Otis Redding, at the height of his fame, cut a demo for one of his biggest competitors. That's Otis playing the acoustic guitar on it too by the way.

Otis did "Satisfaction" so convincingly that there was a widespread rumor at the time that he'd actually written the song and sold it to the Stones. Keith Richards called that one of the best compliments he'd ever been paid and said that he'd envisioned it being done like Otis did it - with horns. The funny thing is Otis had never actually heard the song itself when he cut his studio version. Steve Cropper picked the Stones record from a stack of new releases that had just come in when Otis was out of the studio, scribbled down the chords and lyrics and showed it to Otis who agreed to try it. You'll notice he made up a bunch of lyrics himself to flesh it out.

As for "Just Like A Woman", Dylan actually wrote it FOR Redding to record. Bob attended Otis's week long gig at the famed Whisky-A-Go-Go in '65 or so and presented an acetate of the song to Otis backstage to see if he'd be interested in cutting it. Otis liked it but said it had "too many damn words". The belief is that he'd have cut out a verse or two (probably the second - hard to imagine him talking about amphetamines) had he gotten around to doing it himself.

In music circles even to this day Otis is a god of epic proportions. Unfortunately the general public isn't as aware of him as they should be. But just to put in perspective how revered he was, in March of '67 the Beatles, who were in the midst of cutting "Sgt. Pepper's" at the time, went to a club he was playing while on tour in England and lined up to each take turns talking to Otis one on one. They knew when they were in the presence of true rock royalty.

At September 10, 2006 10:14 PM, Blogger heather said...

Sampson, I am speechless. Thank you SO much for taking the time to write all this down. You should be writing about music yourself! (maybe you do) -


At September 11, 2006 8:57 AM, Blogger JohnnyHank said...

Living in Madison, WI, within view of the lake where Otis' plane went down, it's hard not to think of Otis every time I walk my dog along the shores of Lake Monona. Seeing the shredded panel of his plane at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame really moved me.
Thanks for a great post.

At September 11, 2006 11:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do actually. Glad you liked it. You're doing a good job yourself, keep it up.

Oh, and for the best 3AM song ever, try Big Joe Turner's "Chains Of Love".

At September 11, 2006 11:20 AM, Blogger Natsthename said...

I recall hearing "Tramp" when I was a kid and it was always one of my favorite Otis Redding favorites. Thanks, as I have never had that song in mp3 form!!

At September 12, 2006 3:12 PM, Blogger Robert Cass said...

"i live in Macon, Georgia. Can't wait to get out, once i graduate from high school in may ..."

That made me laugh. I was born and raised in Macon, and although I don't think I'll ever have a reason to move back, it's a great city in which to grow up (I still visit my parents there). I understand wanting to get out at 18, but you can go stir-crazy in any city, of course. I used to live down the street from Vineville Baptist Church; according to my dad, it wasn't integrated until 1964, when Otis was already in his 20s, so he may have only sang there as a visitor.

My dad has a story about being in college in the early '60s and attending a party at which Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers were playing. My dad got drunk at the party (as college students sometimes do) and has a vague memory (although my memory of his memory is even vaguer) of bumping into the Pinetoppers' singer in the bathroom and telling him how great he was. The singer was Otis Redding. My dad also went to high school with Phil Walden, Redding's manager and the founder of Capricorn Records, who passed away in April.

One factual error: you say that Macon has a population of 325,000, but I think that's Bibb County's approximate population. That Wikipedia entry says Macon's population was around 97,000 six years ago, and my mom says it's roughly 95,000 today, down from 150,000 "many years ago," although I kept telling people here in Chicago that 150,000 was the correct number until recently.

I forwarded along your entry to my parents (hence the corrections). Thanks for the tribute to Otis and Macon! Macon is also where Mike Mills and Bill Berry of R.E.M. went to high school, and it's where Ian Copeland, brother of Stewart and Miles, lived for a while in the '70s. There are rumors that Sting, Stewart, and Andy Summers visited Macon to see Ian when the Police were first touring America, but I can't substantiate any of that. However, I'll start a new rumor here: that song "Don't Stand So Close to Me" is TOTALLY about Macon! Listen to it again. You'll see.

At September 14, 2006 5:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With all due respect to Otis, Elliott Smith laid a pretty strong claim on the quarter-to-three genre with his aptly named "2:45 am." It's at least good to know that there's competition for this title.

At June 29, 2007 11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi, the sitting on the dock of the bay link is not working... i really want to check out that song.

At December 11, 2007 8:27 PM, Blogger Katie D. said...

I'M FROM MACON, GA! And I'M obsessed with Otis! You don't know all the awesome Otis events I've been able to attend this anniversary year. I even got to play "Sittin on the Dock of the Bay" on the kazoo (invented in Macon) with Otis III.

At December 11, 2007 8:33 PM, Blogger Katie D. said...

*I* go to Mercer! And *I* own that Monterey Pop album! Holy crap.

At December 12, 2007 10:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's nice to hear you have a Macon connection. Scanning this post, I saw the photo of the Otis statue and thought, "Cool!" Then I read about your Grampy, and that was even cooler. I grew up in Macon ("Mulberry Panda 96" is my brother) and returned for a few years after graduate school to work there. And I just busted out "The Ultimate Otis Redding" for a listen a couple of weeks ago. I recommend Scott Freeman's book "Otis!" (as well as his "Midnight Riders" about The Allman Brothers Band, another Macon product) if you want a good biography.

Thanks for all the great stuff you've been posting lately.


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