Otis Redding, The Big O

Posted by Miss Ess, February 1, 2009 06:11am | Post a Comment
Otis Redding has inarguably one of the most evocative voices in all our country's history, and like so many with such enormous talent, he died too young.

I think I first heard Otis in high school when I became obsessed with the Monterey Pop Festival, Otis' first big splash onto the pop scene. I was overwhelmed by his voice and energy during his famous performance there, including and especially a song he cowrote called "I've Been Loving You Too Long." In fact, one of my very first purchases at Amoeba quite a few years ago, and long before I ever worked here was the Reprise release of Redding's Monterey Pop set with Hendrix' on the flip side. I had never been able to find it anywhere else.

Otis came from Georgia, and he wrote and recorded for Stax/Volt, the famous Southern label. Not many people in his day were writing their own songs. Otis would write many with the legendary Steve Cropper, including "(Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay." Additionally, the many songs that he chose to cover were infused with a sprit and fortitude that made them all his own. Otis' career gained momentum throughout the 60s due to his incessant touring and massive talent for entertaining and moving crowds. He released a string of essential albums, including Pain in My Heart, The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads, Otis Blue, The Soul Album, Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul and King & Queen.

Otis died in a small plane crash that occured just a few months after Monterey Pop, on December 10, 1967.

One of my favorite songs that he sings so memorably on Otis Blue has always been "A Change Is Gonna Come." The song, which has never lost its power over the many years and zillions of cover versions since it was written by Sam Cooke, seems even more timely right now as our 44th president experiences his first months in office. I always hotly argued with my friends over whether the Otis version was better than the original, sung by Cooke. Although it is admittedly a tough call, Otis' was always number one in my heart -- it reverberates with grit and emotion, weariness and hope.

In addition to his great talent, as his official website states, Redding believed "that music could be a universal force, bringing together different races and cultures." Back when it was uncommon, his label, Stax, was famously integrated, his backing band was often the MGs, made up of black and white players, and he brought his music to both the chitlin circuit and pop festivals. He was loved by all. I just don't think there has ever been a better vocalist and some of the songs he wrote are some of the best ever, including "Respect," "Hard to Handle," "These Arms of Mine," and many more.

Here's my favorite Otis track, "Cigarettes and Coffee." One note from Otis and his gorgeous, expressive voice, and I am lost in sentimental memories.

I can't resist adding "You Don't Miss Your Water" as well:

Relevant Tags

Stax/volt (1), Monterey Pop Festival (1), Otis Redding (12), Mgs (1), Steve Cropper (1), Black History Month (134), 1960s (49)