A Brief Memory and Tribute by Doug Draper
Posted December 10th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
“Sittin’ in the mornin’ sun, sittin’ till the evenin’ comes. Watchin’ the ships roll in, and then I’ll watch them roll away again.”
How many times have you found your mind drifting off to that dock of the bay with that oh, so plaintive, soulful voice of Otis Redding and the understated beauty of Steve Cropper ‘s guitar and Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn’s bass riffs serenading away in the background?
It was 50 years ago this December 7th that Otis Redding finished recording that song, which he wrote with a little assistance from Steve Cropper (a friend and producer of his from Booker T. and the MGs fame), and just three days later – on December 10, 1967 – Otis died in a plane crash on his way to a show in Madison, Wisconsin. He was only 26 years old.
Just seven months, on a June weekend in 1967 as the sun was rising on what would come to be called ‘The Summer of Love’, Otis Redding – after years of wowing largely black audiences with songs like ‘These Arms of Mine, ‘Mr. Pitiful’ and ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now’ becoming big hits on the R&B charts – finally broke the so-called colour barrier with a performance at the now legendary Monterey Pop Festival that brought what he dubbed as the ‘love crowd’ of flower children and hippies on the festival grounds to its feet.
That Monterey Pop show – still listed by music writers and critics as one of the most electrifying lives shows ever documented on film – ended with a rendition of ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ – an old standard in the American songbook that first hit the charts in the 1930s and 40s when, among others, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra sang it – that built from a soulful ballad to a breath-taking frenzy that (despite a very good, almost note for note cover version of the song a few years later by the rock group Three Dog Night, with Buffalo, New York native Cory Wells taking the lead on the vocals) has never been topped.
Otis Redding wrote or co-wrote an impressive library of other songs that became hits for himself and others, including ‘I Can’t Turn You Loose’, ‘Hard To Handle’, ‘The Happy Song’ and ‘Respect’, which became a signature song for the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.
Then there is ‘Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay’, which two months after his death, went up to number one on the Billboard charts in February of 1968, and became the biggest hit he ever had and arguably one of the greatest pop tunes of all time.
Many famous singers, including Tom Jones, Peggy Lee, Cher, Percy Sledge, Glen Campbell and even Bob Dylan, have recorded cover versions of that song, but no one has ever been able to do it as movingly as Otis Redding himself, with that whistling at the end to the sound of waves washing in.
“I’ve had nothing to live for, and look like nothin’s gonna come my way,’ go the words in one of the verses.
Sadly, it was looking like Otis Redding had a lot to live for when his life was cut so short. Thankful, he remains immortalized to this day through songs like ‘Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay’ and through that legendary performance (screened as recently as this past November at the Film House in St. Catharines) 50 years ago at Monterey.
Now I’m going to go put on a vinyl copy of ‘Otis Redding In Person at the Whisky A Go Go’ that I bought all those years ago at something called “a record store”, and that I still have as one of the more treasured titles in my music collection.
Here is Otis Redding asking the flower children to ‘try a little tenderness’ at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967 –
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