REVISITING OTIS REDDING’S DOCK OF THE BAY SESSIONS
New Collection Showcases Redding’s Songwriting Evolution in ’67
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” Celebrates 50th Anniversary
By Harvey Kubernik c 2018
Otis Redding was on top of the world in 1967, highlighted by a career-defining performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. Returning to Memphis that
fall, Redding began to explore different musical influences when he entered the studio to record his next album. Tragically, those sessions were cut short after only a few weeks when the singer died in a plane crash on December 10, 1967, with four members of his backing band the Bar-Kays when Redding’s private airplane crashed in a Madison, Wisconsin lake. Singers Johnnie Taylor and Joe Simon were among the pallbearers at Redding’s funeral in Macon City, Georgia. Booker T. Jones played organ to the grieving congregation and Jerry Wexler provided the eulogy.
It was a day that dramatically and constantly reminds us about Redding’s frozen legacy that at least now can be heard again on these recordings. While there will never be a definitive idea of what Redding’s next album would have been this new Dock of the Bay Sessions is the first to show what could have been.
On February 23, 1968 the world was graced with the first posthumously-released Otis Redding Volt-Atlantic album, Dock of the Bay, one which was destined to be the most successful of his posthumous releases as a result of its title track.
And now, a half a century later, on May 18, 2018, the Rhino label issued Dock of the Bay Sessions as part of the ongoing 50th anniversary celebration of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” March 16th marked the actual 50th anniversary of the single topping both the pop and R&B charts in 1968 and becoming Redding’s first #1 hit.
The 12-song Dock of the Bay Sessions carries a retail price for $14.98 on CD and $21.98 on 180-gram vinyl. The music is available on digital download and streaming services. Produced by Redding’s longtime musical associate, Steve Cropper, the 11 songs on Dock of the Bay Sessions were culled from various dates during the course of Redding’s life, with some tracks dating back to 1965.
Incorporated are “Hard to Handle,” “Gone Again,” a version of the Impressions’ hit “Amen,” “Love Man,” and the heart-stopping ballad, “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember,” with lyrics Redding adapted from a poem written by his beloved wife Zelma. The album’s opener, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of The Bay,” was one of the last songs Redding ever recorded. Released in January 1968, it soon topped the charts on March 16th, going on to sell more than four million copies and becoming the first posthumous #1 single in the history of the U.S. music charts.
Dock of the Bay Sessions offers no unheard music. I wish “I’m Coming Home” on the initial 1968 Dock of the Bay LP was included. During ’68 it was in constant radio rotation on KHJ-AM in the Los Angeles market. In the July 2018 issue of UNCUT, their review hailed the item as “a collection that reimagines Otis Redding’s final album.”
The 12-song Dock of the Bay Sessions was compiled with input from Roger Armstrong of Ace Records and Otis biographer Jonathan Gould, Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life, and has the Redding family’s full endorsement.
Although the individual tracks have been previously released across a smattering of posthumous albums and compilations, this marks the first time they have been assembled to resemble what this album could possibly have been. ‘It was one of the highlights of my time in music when in the early hours of one morning at Fantasy Studio, I put on a 4 track tape and Ron Capone said ‘Dock of the Bay take 1’ – a chill went up my spine,” volunteered Armstrong. “I played through the 4 remaining full takes, the master having been stripped out, and marveled at the upbeat atmosphere and camaraderie between everyone involved.
“Of course they were not to know that Otis would meet a tragic ending before the record was finished. But it is that atmosphere that stays with me and that belies the sadness and melancholy that inevitably surrounded the record when it finally came out. Otis was striking out in a new direction and we can but speculate what type of music he would have made had he lived, but we can say with certainty it would have been great and full of the lust for life that he brought to every performance.”
In the liner notes, musician, journalist and author Bob Stanley writes: “This album is the first indication of a new Otis Redding, one that has slayed audiences in Europe, one which won him a whole new crowd at the Monterey International Pop Festival.”
The legendary music booking agent, Jerry Heller, wrote Ruthless A Memoir with Gil Reavill, and was the moving force behind West Coast rap music. He co-founded Ruthless Records with Eazy-E, and managed N.W.A., after a career securing shows for Marvin Gaye, Canned Heat, the Rascals, Lee Michaels, the Standells, Van Morrison, Eric Burdon, Ike & Tina Turner, ELO, War, Average White Band in addition of booking Elton John and Pink Floyd for their debut major American tours.
Heller also guided Otis Redding in his short career. In 2007 Jerry spoke to me from his home in Calabasas, California. He attended the Monterey International Pop Festival when he worked for Associated Booking in Beverly Hills. He sadly sheds some light on Redding’s Monterey moment and where Otis was going in terms of future concerts and appearances that were being planned before his untimely passing.
“Monterey was the first festival I had gone to, but I had been dealing for a couple of years with Claude Nobbs at the Montreux Jazz Festival and George Wein at Newport. I was handling Otis and just met him through Phil Walden, a colorful character, who was his manager. Good guy. Several agents went to Monterey. Phil was a fabulous manager. I had never seen Otis live before only on film from the Olympia Theater in Paris. And Otis was a big man. He was like Aaron Neville. He could just blow you away with his sheer power and intensity of his voice and his lyrics. I’ve never seen anything like it at Monterey.
“The reason I was at Monterey with Otis was that I said to Joe Glaser my boss at Associated Booking, ‘this guy can be a major, major pop star. This guy can be a big rock ‘n’ roll star.’ After Monterey I called Bill Graham and Otis did the Fillmore West. We made arrangements to play a number of dates. I talked to promoters Wolf & Rissmiller in L.A. and guys all over the country who were my guys to play Otis. I was also going to get him real money. We were really positioning him. But remember, he had already done the Olympia Theater in Paris, the Stax/Volt Revue in Europe, and look at the hits he had written already,” stressed Heller.
For the August 21, 1976 issue of Melody Maker I interviewed Bay area music promoter Bill Graham at his Mill Valley home along with Carlos Santana and Jerry Garcia. I asked Bill about his favorite concert performer and without hesitation he ranked Otis as “The single most extraordinary talent I had ever seen.”
In 1966, promoter Graham had to first fly from San Francisco to Macon, Georgia to personally convince Redding to play his fabled rock palace with the eighteen- piece Robert Hathaway band. How could Graham describe Redding on his stage? “A six foot three black Adonis in a green suit, a black shirt and a yellow tie who moved like a serpent or a panther stalking his prey,” he marveled.
“In 1966, and ’67, and all through Jefferson Airplane, we did my tune ‘It’s No Secret,’ Marty Balin disclosed to me in a 2015 interview. “I originally wrote it with Otis Redding in mind. It was for him. I used to hang out with Otis and follow him around like a little puppy dog and watch his shows. Hang out with the band and him. I just wanted to write him a song that had his kind of groove thing I thought. But Otis never did it. He did write his own songs. I didn’t discover Otis at the Monterey International Pop Festival.
“In fact, I was the guy who took the 45 record of Otis’ ‘These Arms of Mine’ to Bill Graham. ‘Hire this guy. I want to see him.’ And Bill Graham did. December of 1966. He would listen to the bands of who to book and as support or lead acts. Otis was the most powerful person I’ve ever seen perform. Outside of anybody you name. I’ve seen a lot of people play and on TV. I’ve never seen anybody handle an audience like him and rock the joint. The energy level was amazing with this guy. He had that great horn section.
“For me a highlight of the Monterey International Pop Festival was Otis. I had been around and he knew who I was. We went on before he went on. And nobody got the crowd moving but when the Airplane came on we got the crowd moving. We got them excited and got ‘em up and dancing. And I walked off and Otis Redding was standing there and he said, ‘Hey man. It’s a pleasure to be on the same stage with you.’ For me, that was it, baby. Right there. He staggered the crowd.”
In June 1967, Redding galvanized the audience at the Monterey International Pop Festival. It was former Rolling Stones’ manager and record producer and esteemed author Andrew Loog Oldham who initially called Phil Walden to secure Otis a prime slot for Monterey.
In 1967 Otis Redding was voted number one male vocalist over Elvis Presley in the annual Melody Maker reader’s poll awards. Oldham suggested to Monterey festival producers Lou Adler and John Phillips that Otis play the non-profit charity Monterey event. Phil Walden initially received the call from Oldham. Walden then in turn dialed Atlantic Records’ Jerry Wexler to see if the festival was kosher. Wexler also explained to him what the logic of it would be and Walden wisely then took Wexler’s advice that Otis should do the gig for free.
In a 2007 dinner interview, Andrew recalled, “When Otis came on stage you forgot about the logistics. We knew we were taking one small step forward for mankind. Phil Walden, his manager, was in heaven. He knew he’d just graduated from buses to planes. Phil Walden was one of the greatest managers of his time. His enthusiasm, his pure chicanery, his belief, his service to Otis was an example to the game.”
I interviewed Steve Cropper in 2007 for Goldmine magazine about the Monterey event and Redding’s arrival as a star attraction.
“Otis had found his audience, and Monterey helped him cross over to a wider white pop market. They already knew how big he was in Europe and Europe was not an ethnic rhythm and blues audience. It was more general. He was big in France and he was big in England. And he was big, and Phil Walden and Atlantic knew that, and they wanted that same kind of recognition over here, and they were finding it very difficult to get pop radio play. No problem getting R&B play whatsoever. So we knew what we wanted to do. Without question, the Stax/Volt tour itself of England and Europe changed everybody’s life. It changed the musicians and the executive end.
“At Monterey, that audience sat out through the rain to see us, or wait to see Otis Redding, and that’s the first time I ever experienced that. And they were more curious than anything else. Because they heard and heard who Otis was.
“The way I recall it, they took us over to the festival in a school bus, we could hear the music. We heard a concert going in that afternoon. Now, we didn’t play until that night but they took us over early, ‘cause some of the guys wanted to hear some of the other artists. And, the Association was on stage as we pulled up, and I will never forget that.
“And here’s a connection, and I always loved their records on the radio, the influence of the Association in 1966, ’67, that the bridge on ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock of The Bay’ that I wrote with Otis was inspired by my like for their music. Hearing them was a little thing, but that was the inspiration for it, because we knew we had a hit, and we wanted to make it pop. In the studio when I was writing songs and starting to record them I always saw it in my head as a finished product. I knew where to go with it. To me the Association loved R&B but they were a pop group. You know what I’m saying? So that’s sort of the way I was trying to go with that. Of course, with Otis singing it became an Otis song. He got the idea when he was staying at a houseboat in Sausalito when he was workin’ the Fillmore West.”
Cropper also reflected on the energy and musicality of the Otis and Booker T. and the MG’s super charged unit. “There’s no need for me to be bragging on myself and I don’t do that and it’s not an ego thing, and all that. I don’t think there ever was or ever will be a band that had the magnetism that Booker T. & the MG’s had. Whether they back somebody or played on their own. In our high school days and upbringing. We had that band mentality thing ‘cause we worked as a unit. Because if some guy wants to go out their and ego on stage he’s gonna blow it for everybody else. We learned to play as a unit in the studio. We were there not for ourselves but for the artist we were playing behind.”
Music journalist, Keith Altham, who attended the Monterey event reviewing the action for New Musical Express enthused about Redding to me in 2016, “Otis Redding at Monterey. If I am absolutely honest, Otis Redding was not my particular bag of music and why did he really fit in to that whole kind of revolutionary new style of music. We’re talking soul. The one thing he had was the most staggeringly beautiful voice. He was not the greatest mover on stage, although he projected. I didn’t realize how big he was. Such a massive man! And, bit could he sing! Just a wonderful voice. I’m so glad I actually heard him live and feel privileged I was there on that particular situation.”
In 1996, I spoke with sitar player Ravi Shankar at his home in Encinitas, California. During a lunch interview, Shankar happily confessed he caught Otis at Monterey as well. “One night, I really heard Otis Redding. He was fantastic. One of the best, I remember.”
“I watched Otis Redding disarm the audience,” added multi-instrumentalist Al Kooper in a 2007 dialogue I had with him. Kooper served as assistant stage manager at the landmark gathering. “He was fantastic. The audience sort of didn’t know him and he hadn’t played in front of white people before. It was great. They gave him a lot of love. And he had one of the greatest bands in the history of rock ‘n’ roll behind him. I’d seen Al Jackson before. He was like the Charlie Watts of black music.”
In 2007 I did an interview with Jerry Wexler and we discussed Otis and Booker T & the MG’s slot on that influential June ’67 weekend.
“Otis’ show at Monterey astonished me because he nailed that audience of hippies and weed heads in a way that was astonishing to me because that was not his core audience. He nailed those hippies. That was unreal. ‘This is the love crowd.’ At Monterey, part of the deal I got to watch Booker T. and the MG’s, Cropper, Duck, Al Jackson in front of the audience. Naturally, we brought Booker T. and the MG’s out there to be his backing band. Booker T. Jones is a musical genius. A very loud fantastic rock band went on before them, I think Jefferson Airplane, you know with the 20 foot Marshall amps and all of this, so it was roaring.
“Now Booker T. and the MG’s open their show with their little Sears Roebuck amps. And you know what, it quieted down. The way you control a noisy crowd is if you are good you play soft. You don’t try and out volume them. So they had it set up, and were so good, they commanded so much attention, and when Otis came on the crowd was ready.
“Listen, not only did I like Steve Cropper as a guitar player, I consider him a monumental roadwork to a new kind of way of guitar playing. Something he and Cornell Dupree, the only two that I knew that could do it, to play a kind of rhythm and lead at the same time. When he played there would be a little turnaround, a little sting, a little fill, and it was single string, and it was chord and rhythm and lead at the same time without solos.”
Over the last decade I had a few memorable interviews with Stax-based trumpet player, Wayne Jackson, who offered fond memories of Redding and the 1967 Stax/Volt tour.
“Initially it was going to be Otis and his guys who went on the road with him. It was Jerry Wexler who said, ‘No. They want to hear the sound of Stax.’ The UK audience knew it as the Stax/Volt band. The Mar-Keys and Booker T. & the MG’s that made up the band. They loved Otis Redding like we all loved Otis Redding but the band at Stax was the diving board he jumped off of. You can tell the horn sound. Me, Andrew Love and Floyd Newman sound a certain way. All those records had that in common. All those records had Steve Cropper’s guitar, Al Jackson’s drums, Duck Dunn’s bass and Booker’s organ. Those things are very distinctive and that made up Stax sounds. And that’s where Otis came from. So Jerry Wexler was really hip to say that.
“Stevie Winwood told me personally that it changed his life that night. Rod Stewart. He was foaming at the mouth when I got the horn section in for Atlantic Crossing. Before that we did Smiler. Boy, were we some excited folks. I mean me and Andrew were like 31, 32, so anyway we were in England again and recording with a rock star. It was so exciting. He was in love with all of us. Peter Gabriel. I went up to Bath. He saw Otis in Brixton (at the Ram Jam club). I did the arranging on ‘Sledgehammer.’” (The song was written as a tribute to Redding).
In one chat, Wayne underscored the sense of destiny that imbued the sound of Stax wax.
“Booker T. Jones is a musical genius. Otis always brought a great contribution to all the sessions he was on. He was educated. Steve Cropper invented a style of guitar where the little guitar parts were singular. He played licks that became part of the song. The horns were part of the song. Without us they would not have been the same. Al Jackson was a joy to watch. He was the most fun drummer I ever was around. He was just the best drummer you ever heard and the best drummer you ever saw. He was a great musician. Steve Cropper invented a style of guitar where the little guitar parts were singular. He played licks that became part of the song. The horns were part of the song. Without us they would not have been the same.
“Musicians are not in competition. No one in that band was in competition. We were one thing. We were there to support and glorify Otis Redding. And we did that. We were there to respect, glorify, and hold the singer up to glory. Whether it be Otis, Eddie Floyd, or Sam and Dave. We did that. That was our job and we loved it and did it good. Everybody in that band had his position. Like Duck Dunn. Have you ever seen anybody work that hard on bass? It makes my hands cramp up,” confided Jackson.
“Duck Dunn and I are both left-handed, born on the same day in the same hospital. It was a real spiritual and astrological happening at Stax. Andrew Love is three days older than me and he and David Porter were born the same day.
“Otis always brought a great contribution to all the sessions he was on. He was educated. Otis used a guitar to write songs and would use open key. So he could just bar it put a bar on his finger and play up the scale and chords. He could easily write with it. When I was with Otis he was on another energy track. Otis was like a 16-year old boy with a hard on all the time.
“Because all he could think about was writing a song and getting into a studio. That was his life. Zelma and those kids and the farm and his music in that order I think. But outside of the farm he didn’t think of nothing but his career. Otis did an amazing body of work in the six years he was recording.
“I just feel absolute joy and thrilled and my luck was that good and God was that good to me to put me into that situation as an 18 year old. I was there the whole time and thrilled the whole time. I loved Otis and he loved me. We were big friends. ‘Cause we all liked to laugh, and we were all young and the testosterone levels were out of this world. That’s what you heard in that music.”
In an interview I conducted with Cropper in 2006, Steve provided some glimpses into Redding the person, not the entertainer, and Otis’s career plans for the rest of the sixties. Otis used to call him “Crop.”
“Everything Otis touched he made it his own, like Sam Cooke’s ‘Shake.’ All of those things, you listen to them, and it’s sort of like a great actor, like if Gene Hackman takes a part, or if James Stewart takes a part, they become that character. And at the time you watched it you became part of them. You know what I’m saying? You don’t think about somebody else doing it.
“I got to be around Elvis (Presley) quite a bit, and Elvis’ people and I knew how that charisma thing worked. I saw Elvis in action, and when Elvis entered a room, everything stopped. Time just stopped, and I always referred to him as someone turning on a bright light bulb. Very few people on this planet that have that, or had that and Otis Redding had that. I saw it. It wasn’t something I manufactured in my own mind.
“If he walked into a lobby at a hotel, everybody stopped and turned. ‘Oh my God. Who is that? That’s Otis Redding.’ That’s the way it was. Like a president walking in the room. It wasn’t as big as Elvis, obviously.
“And one other person in my life had that same aura, and it was Roy Orbison. Roy definitely had that light bulb and he couldn’t go anywhere. He had that look, I guess, but he couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized and people just wanting to get to him. And, that’s the way Elvis was. I’ve had several people in my life like that. John Belushi. Everyone wanted a piece of him because he was everybody’s buddy. That’s the way Elvis was. Elvis came off as everybody’s high school friend. And Otis came off as everybody’s street high school buddy. He just treated everybody he came in contact with respect with he treated his whole family with.
“Otis and I had talked very seriously, in the studio, and at lunch, in the hotel room when we were alone. ‘I’m going to move up here. I’m looking for a place, and I’m going to start writing and producing songs. That’s what I want to do.’ He enjoyed being in the studio and had done some stuff in Muscle Shoals. ‘I’m going to continue recording but I’m not going to tour as much.’ And he mentioned ‘I may have to let my band go.’ Because he had been working with us and he wanted us to just go out on the road. He knew the studio band was so much closer to his music then his band that he had out there that was just trying to copy what we did. Here he had the guys that actually did what they did and he knew the difference. So he was very driven. And I don’t think he had any intentions at all of leaving this planet or ‘full speed ahead. Let’s get in as much as we can’ And Otis was planning to live in Memphis for a while. And that was for an indefinite period of time.
“He wasn’t gonna sell his farm in Macon by no means,” confirmed Cropper. “But he said ‘rather than take an apartment I’m gonna buy a house up here. I’m gonna live up here and you and I are gonna produce and write.’ Now I knew that when nobody else knew that. Because I didn’t know how that would go down with Phil, Atlantic, Jim Stewart. ‘Cause this was a decision that Otis was gonna make. And he was telling me in private because he trusted me like a brother,” revealed Steve.
“And then the other thing that happened historically was that in 1968, was the day that Martin Luther King was assassinated, that whole musical aura at Stax the bubble was burst. Never was the same and will never ever be the same,” Steve lamented.
“You know, I always said it didn’t have to happen in the first place and why did it have to happen in Memphis?’ A quiet town and everybody got along. You look back, and there were things happening around me that I wasn’t aware of. My buddies didn’t talk to me about it. We never had a problem. We went to each other’s houses, we hung out, and we went to restaurants together. We were blood brothers if anything else. We were family. Big time family. So, this sort of changed everybody’s lives without question. So thank God Monterey was before that,” Cropper sighed.
If you need to read more about Otis Redding, may I suggest checking out the Otis Redding—Live at the Whisky a Go Go: The Complete Recordings chapter in my anthology Inside Cave Hollywood: The Harvey Kubernik Music InnerViews and InterViews Collection, Vol. 1.
(Harvey Kubernik is the author of 14 books, including heralded titles on Leonard Cohen and Neil Young. His 2017 volume, the acclaimed 1967 A Complete Rock History of the Summer of Love was published by Sterling/Barnes and Noble. His Inside Cave Hollywood: The Harvey Kubernik Music InnerViews and InterViews Collection, Vol. 1 was published in late December 2017, by Cave Hollywood. Kubernik’s multi-voice narrative book The Doors Summer’s Gone was published by Other Cottage Industries in March 2018.
In October 2018, Sterling/Barnes and Noble will publish Harvey’s book, The Story of The Band From Big Pink to The Last Waltz, a collaboration with brother Kenneth Kubernik.
In November 2006, Harvey was a featured speaker discussing audiotape preservation and archiving at special hearings called by The Library of Congress, held in Hollywood, California. Over his 45 year music and pop culture journalism endeavors, Harvey has been published domestically and internationally in The Hollywood Press, The Los Angeles Free Press, Melody Maker, Crawdaddy, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, MOJO, Shindig!, HITS, The Los Angeles Times, Ugly Things, Record Collector News and www.cavehollywood.com).