Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Retrospective - Otis Redding

Retrospective Guest Review
Otis Redding
The Dock of the Bay
(02.1968, Elektra)

Otis is KING. Many have a qualified form of royalty, or in some instanced anointed themselves. The King of Pop, the Queen of Soul, king of the hill, etc. But in reference to Otis Redding no qualifier is needed. Although primarily a soul man, Otis’ music is infused with blues, rock and roll, jazz, country, and big band underpinnings. And from his explosive live performances, to his untimely death, Otis’ music is a tutorial in passion, sincerity and playfulness that has been all but lost on the cynicism of today. Most people are undoubtedly familiar with Otis Redding’s biggest hit, (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay, which was released following his death in an airplane crash, but it is important to know a few other things about Otis Redding. Early in his career Otis was really only recognized in the south, but at The Monterey Pop Festival that largely changed. The Saturday lineup at Monterey dictated that he follow Jefferson Airplane, who due to their popularity at the time were effectively headlining the entire weekend. In this un-envious position, Otis emerged on stage and literally stopped people in their tracks. Having just finished watching Jefferson Airplane, most of the crowd began to head for the exits considering the day as good as over, it wasn’t. Otis was on stage, and according to Bob Weir he was “God on stage…shooting lightning and sparks.” Six months later Otis was dead, he was 26. Like many great painters, and writers, Otis’ music wasn’t greatly appreciated until after his death, and if your acquaintance with his music only extends as far as The Dock of the Bay, it still isn’t fully appreciated today. You remember when Aretha sang R-E-S-P-E-C-T? Before that song became an anthem for women’s rights, it was actually written and recorded by Otis’ promising his woman everything she wanted as long as she gave him a little respect when he came home. Otis was also fond of covering great songs of other great artists including The Rolling Stone’s Satisfaction, and a number of Sam Cooke classics. On each of these renditions Otis injected his passionate delivery, often extending his voice beyond its own limits to give it an emotive effect beyond that of any of the soul singers of the time. Now back to the album, The Dock of the Bay begins with the classic song of the same name. I’m not exactly sure what more can be said about a song that contains sounds of the ocean lapping and an incredible whistling outro, but for me it stands nearly alone as one of the few classic songs that despite being overplayed, does not get old. The album veers back and forth from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other without ever losing momentum. From the playful "Don’t Mess With Cupid," to the revival inspired "Glory Of Love," to "Tramp" where Otis and “the Queen” Carla Thomas banter about Otis’ country roots and lack of sophistication. The bantering literally begins:
Carla: “TRAMP!”
Otis: “What’d you call me?”
Carla: “TRAMP!”
Otis: “You Didn’t!”
Could it get any better? Actually yes, this is when you stop reading unfounded reviews, and listen to an incredible album.

-Spruce Lee

Otis Redding live at the Monterey Fesitval

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