OTIS REDDING – ” Dock Of The Bay “

Posted: May 25, 2018 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Dock of The Bay Sessions
Otis Redding was born in Macon, Georgia, on September 9, 1941. Macon is located near the center of Georgia, and today has a population of around 150,000 people. Despite being unremarkable, it was somehow the birthplace for three pillars of soul and rock ‘n’ roll—Little Richard, Otis Redding, and James Brown— and the Allman Brothers of the Allman Brothers Band.
Redding’s career started early. As a 19-year-old, he joined guitarist Johnny Jenkins’ band the Pinetoppers as a singer. The band toured the Chitlin Circuit, and Jenkins had a small, but devoted audience. In 1962, Redding drove Jenkins to Memphis, where the older singer had scored a recording date at Stax Studios, a nascent label taking on a variety of soul and R&B clients across the south in an effort to throw a bunch of singles and singers at the wall and see what stuck. Jenkins spent the better part of a day trying to record a couple songs, and didn’t do so well in that endeavor—most of the Stax house band (including Booker T. and the M.G.’s, and the Memphis Horns) begged off for the day by the time he finished, knowing there wasn’t a hit present. When there was time left on the session, someone and reports vary on this, though apparently Redding may have asked for himself suggested letting Jenkins’ driver cut a record. After failing as bad as Jenkins while trying to record a cover the band members that stayed remember being furious enough to want to leave themselves  Otis Redding sang his “These Arms of Mine,” and the rest was history. The band and label boss Jim Stewart heard and loved the song, released the single, and off Redding went.

The poster for Otis' missed show in Madison. It sells for hundreds of dollars.

His recording career only lasted 62 months, from October 1962 when he recorded “These Arms of Mine,” to December 1967. Here’s the math: Redding released five solo albums, one duets album, one live album, and 79 songs before his plane went down in Lake Monona. Four posthumous albums with 46 more songs followed over the next 31 months. Various compilations, live albums, rarities, and alternate takes have been unearthed since, but for all intents and purposes, that’s Otis Redding’s body of work. 11 albums, 125 songs in 62 months. The most famous of those songs is by far-and-away “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay,” a song recorded in the studio three days before Redding died. It’s almost too on the nose, a too perfect swan song; a singer writes his career defining single, his own “A Change Is Gonna Come” or “Blowin’ In The Wind,” about worrying that the social change the ‘60s was seemingly bringing wouldn’t go far enough and help everyone, only to die in a plane crash before it was released. But that isn’t the whole story: Redding never considered the song “done;” he was worried it was too poppy, was considering adding the Staples Singers as backing vocalists, and hadn’t even properly recorded the now famous outro (the whistling you hear is Sam “Bluzman” Taylor), which might have just been a placeholder until Redding could add another verse.

In the summer of 1967, promoter Lou Adler and Mamas and the Papas member John Phillips had the radical idea to stage a concert at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in Monterey, California. This was before Woodstock, and before bands like Led Zeppelin were touring hockey arenas; the gigantic American festival infrastructure was more or less invented in order to pull off Monterey Pop Festival. Tickets ranged from $3 to $6.50, somewhere between 25,000 and 90,000 people came each day, and the lineup was meant to reflect a who’s who of young-people popular music: the Who—making their most major U.S. performance to date Jefferson Airplane (technically “the draw” of the fest), the Grateful Dead, and the Mamas and the Papas. But three artists more or less made their careers at Monterey Pop: Jimi Hendrix who memorably lit his guitar on fire and publicly executed every hotshot guitarist on earth Janis Joplin, and Otis Redding who closed out the fest’s second night, reportedly because some of the Airplane had seen him and didn’t want to try to follow him. And what’s more, Redding didn’t even want to perform at Monterey Pop. In 1967, Redding was making bank touring America, and had even started nurturing young artists on his own label. He successfully helped launch Arthur Conley, and was rumored to be a target for Atlantic Records, who would seek to to buy him out of his Stax contract and make him a mega star with their major dollars behind him. So, when his manager came to tell him he wanted him to play a pop festival with a bunch of white rock bands, and, furthermore, expected Redding to do it for free—like the other bands on the bill—he was reluctant. But the opportunity to perform to a crowd that was different than the typical one packing out his club dates was too good an opportunity to pass up.  Watching video of the performance released as part of Criterion Collection’s release of the documentary on Monterey Pop is like watching video of Picasso painting,  It’s his live masterpiece. He comes out and says “This is the love crowd, right?” and then goes into a straight take of “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” before stopping and starting it in the middle; he has them eating out of his hand. He then did a soulful take of “Satisfaction.” You can’t watch the sweat fly off of Redding during this performance and not want to own every album and single, and not want to follow him into war.

It was a cold and foggy day in Cleveland, on December 10th, 1967. Redding and his band had played some shows at a club called Leo’s Casino the night before, and despite freezing rain across the Midwest, they never missed shows, so Redding and his band piled into the plane and headed to Madison, where they were due that night. Two of the band members always rode commercial since Redding’s plane only sat eight. They would find out about the crash at the Cleveland airport.

Around 3:25 p.m., four miles out from the Madison airport at Truax Field, the pilot radioed in to ask for permission to land. Sometime after that call, the plane came out of the clouds, and crashed into Lake Monona. Some residents living around the lake later claimed to have seen or heard the plane come in close to the ground. Police made it out to the wreckage relatively quickly; they were able to find trumpeter Ben Cauley who couldn’t swim shivering and holding onto a seat cushion. Police couldn’t search much that first day, because the water was so cold. They resumed their search after the sun came up on the 11th. They found the other seven passengers during that morning.

Otis Redding was officially pronounced dead on December 11th, 1967. His funeral was a week later, in Macon. Jerry Wexler, the Atlantic Records executive who was grooming Otis to become Atlantic’s next big star, gave the eulogy.

“Otis Redding was a natural prince,” Wexler said, according to Gould’s book. “When you were with him, he communicated love and a tremendous faith in human possibility, a promise that great and happy events were coming.”

“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” would be released as a single less than a month later. It was Redding’s only number one hit.

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