Otis Redding- Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul (1965)
Updated: Nov 8
Otis Redding- Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul
Recorded July 9-10, 1965
Released September 15, 1965
With the death of Sam Cooke in 1964 came the emergence of Otis Redding. The singer offered an alternative southern approach to soul music that added some contrast to Motown's hit factory. While Motown recordings often relied on heavy layering that included strings and auxiliary percussion, Otis Redding offered a more southern/gospel approach that featured horns more heavily than strings. Motown artists were backed by the Funk Brothers, an incredibly slick house rhythm section. Still, Redding's records were connected to Stax studios, who employed their exceptional rhythm section, Booker T. and the M.G's. The M.G.'s offered a more organic and raw backing than the polished Funk Brothers.
Otis Redding was born in Dawson, Georgia, on September 9, 1941. He was forced to leave school at age 15 when his father contracted tuberculosis. During this time, he worked as a well digger and gas station attendant while continuing to sing and play piano at local establishments. In 1958, Redding met guitarist Johnny Jenkins. The two teamed up and began earning money by entering regional music competitions. After touring the chitlin' circuit with several bands, Redding cut a few recordings in Los Angeles. He was invited to Stax studios in 1962 to record "These Arms Of Mine" and "Hey Hey Baby." Released on Stax's sister Volt label, "These Arms of Mine" sold tremendously (800,000 copies).
In 1963, Redding made a celebrated appearance at the Apollo Theater. In 1964, he released his debut album, Pain in My Heart, which showcased "These Arms of Mine" and previously recorded singles from 1962-1963. In March of 1965, He released his second record, The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballad, which, like Pain In My Heart, did not even crack the Billboard Pop Charts Top 100.
The Album Otis Blue/ Otis Redding Sings Soul.
Otis Blue is an album comprised of mostly covers of known hits, along with three fantastic Redding originals. The release was the first of Redding’s albums to crossover into white markets, selling 250,000 copies and landing at #1 on the U.S. R&B Charts and #6 on the U.K. Album Charts but still just #75 on the U.S. Pop Charts. The album did include four hits, “Respect,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” “Shake,” and “Satisfaction.”
Volt's choice to include a white woman on the cover was an interesting one. It was likely an effort to break Redding into more white markets. The image is a stock photo and has never been definitively identified, but it is believed to be German model Dagmar Dredge.
Many critics and fans consider Otis Blue to be Redding's finest album. Of course, there would not be many because, sadly, Redding's career and life came to a screeching halt when his plane crashed into Lake Montana, killing the singer, four bandmates, a valet, and the pilot on December 9, 1967, while on their way to a gig. Redding was only 26 years old. Three days before the crash, Redding, who was inspired by The Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album (Parlophone, 1967) recorded a tune intended to showcase a new creative direction: "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." The song became a #1 hit, as people still felt tremendous pain from the singer's death.
Awards: Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, and Songwriters Hall Of Fame.
By definition, “soul” is the spiritual or immaterial part of a human being or animal, regarded as immoral. “ In a sense, Rediing is immortal because his music remains, and the sound of his sweet voice can still easily be accessed or heard.
Soul is also “defined as the emotional or intellectual energy or intensity, especially as revealed in a work of art or artistic performance.” Once again, this describes Redding's music. Many people have beautiful voices, but there is something beyond Redding’s talents; it was something in his soul, his genetic makeup, and his essence that made him a great preacher of soulful music, which can easily be enjoyed on this record. Along with Redding on this record are key members of his congregation. The Stax Rhythm section, also known as Booker T. and the M.G.s, includes Booker T. Jones and Issac Hayes on keyboard and piano, Steve Cropper on guitar, Donald Duck Dunn on bass, and Al Jackson Jr. on drums. For horns, we have Wayne Jackson, Gene “Bowlegs” Miller on trumpet, Andrew Love on tenor sax, and Floyd Newman on baritone sax.
(+ means "recommended track" and * means released as a single)
Track 1- “Ole Man Trouble” was written by Redding. The song was released as the B side of “Respect,” which helped it gain attention, and it charted #4 on the Black Singles Charts and #35 on the Pop Singles Charts. The song oozes blues and soul and is a great opening track. The lyrics seem to be from the perspective of a man who has overcome hardships and is looking to avoid trouble. (*+)
Track 2- “Respect” was written by Redding and made an anthem in 1967 by Aretha Franklin. Redding's version deals with a theme of general human dignity, and Franklin’s is more connected to feminism. The song was intended to be released by the band The Singing Demons, but when they could not produce a quality version, Redding recorded it himself, and thank god he did. Redding's version charted at #35 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Franklin’s hit #1. With the possible exception of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of The Bay,” “Respect” may be Redding's most significant original contribution to popular music. So, for that and a whole lot more, he must be given “Respect.”(*+)
Track 3- “A Change Is Gonna Come” was written by the king of soul music, Sam Cooke, and it is one of the greatest protest songs ever written. The song first appeared on Sam Cooke’s album Ain’t That Good News (Season 1, Episode 7). Sadly, Cooke was murdered on December 11, 1964, at the age of 33, and never got to enjoy the song’s success. After his passing, Redding was recognized as Cooke’s soul-singing predecessor. Attempting to recreate Cooke’s masterpiece takes a lot of courage because his version is perfect, and yet Redding somehow manages to capture the spirit of this civil rights anthem while also adding his personal touch to the song. The main difference between Cooke’s and Redding’s versions is Redding’s is more stripped down and raw. The track is a fitting tribute to Sam Cooke. (+)
Track 4- “Down In The Valley” was written in 1962 by Bert Berns and Soloman Burke. Burke recorded the song in the year in which it was written, and the song became a R&B hit. Redding’s version is more funky than Burke's while retaining the R&B Gospel feel of the original. Hats off to the band; they are grooving, and if things down in the valley sound this good, I want to go down there.
Track 5- “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” is another Redding original that was co-written by another soulster, Jerry Butler. It’s one of the most gorgeous and expertly delivered ballads, and the use of dynamics in the music adds to its passion. Guitarist and producer Steve Cropper’s playing and production seriously add to the arrangement. The single reached #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 on the Rhythm and Blues charts. The lyrics refer to a relationship that is fading. I’ve been loving this song for too long, and I hope you will also love it! (+*)
Track 1- “Shake” is another song cooked up by Sam Cooke during the last recording session before he died, and it served as the B side to “A Change Is Gonna Come.” It has also been recorded by Eric Burdon and the Animals, Ike and Tina Turner, The Supremes, and Rod Stewart. It’s a dance soul classic sung by one of the great soul singers. Redding version reached #47 on the Billboard Pop charts and #16 on the R&B charts. Check out the drum work of Al Jackson Jr. and the Stax horns on this one. Enjoy the song, and feel free to move your ass and shake. (+*)
Track 2- “My Girl.” “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day” is the opening lyric, and I can’t think of a better one. Smokey Robinson and Ronald White wrote the song for The Temptation, which gave the group their first #1 hit in 1964. The tune was featured on the 1965 album The Temptations Sing Smokey (a 30 Albums for 30 Years honorable mention). Redding takes the song a little faster than the original, and unlike the classic Motown version, Redding is less produced and more organic. While there are some light vocal dubs or background vocals, this version does not center around vocal harmonies like the original. (*)
Track 3- “Wonderful World.” “I don't know much about history, and I don't know much about biology,” but I know I love this track. “Wonderful World” is another Sam Cooke original recorded on his last session. Hitmaker Lou Adler and flugelhorn master Herb Alpert co-wrote the song. When you hear Redding's voice, I can’t help but feel, “What a wonderful world this could be.” (*)
Track 4- “Rock Me Baby” is now a blues standard credited to B.B. King. The 1964 song was King's first top 40 single to reach the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It’s very cool hearing Redding getting bluesy.
Track 5- “Satisfaction.” With Redding’s version of Rolling Stone’s then-recent hit “Satisfaction,” Redding completely flips the script because bands like the Stones would often take songs from black artists and reinterpret them and usually did so by trying to keep close to the original or by stripping them down. Redding did the opposite; he took a song by a white band, and instead of sticking close to the original, his version is faster, more danceable, and includes some characteristic horn stabs. He absolutely transformed the song, and the public seemed satisfied with the release. The song reached #31 on the Billboard Pop charts and #4 on the R&B charts. (*+)
Track 6- “You Don’t Miss Your Water” quenches the thirst for another ballad. The song was written and recorded in 1961 by William Bell for Stax. The soulful ballad is a great album closer. The song was said to be inspired by Bell’s feelings of homesickness.
Every single song on Otis Blue connects. The album’s success relies on several key elements. First and foremost is Redding’s incredible voice and ability to deliver any song. The second is the groove provided by the Stax house band. Their sound and approach are organic and never seem overly technical or flashy. The musicians are perfect at servicing the feel of each track without getting in Redding’s way. Special credit has to be given to Jim Stewart and Steve Cropper for the overall production. Another critical element is the choice of material. When it comes to covers, Redding and the producers took a bunch of tunes that were already pretty perfect and iconic and chose to see if they could add something unique to them. Somehow, they did. By providing three Sam Cooke songs in “Change is Gonna Come,” “Shake,” and “Wonderful World,” Redding pays a fitting tribute to the murdered soul king whose throne he inherited only a few months before. In addition, Redding transforms other soul and blues classics like “Down In The Valley,” You Don’t Miss Your Water.” Redding also offers new versions of recent hits like “Satisfaction,” My Girl,” and “Rock Me Baby.” Otis Blue is incredibly well-balanced, perfectly delivered, and oozes with soul.