The perfect introduction to an immense legacy

By Sergio Ariza

Otis blue (1965)  

This is the album that I would recommend to anyone who asked me “what is soul?”. Otis Redding was a true giant of music who doesn’t have a single record that is below a  seven but Otis blue is a big ten or, if I’m allowed a 'spinaltapism', an eleven. It includes three of the best songs composed by Redding himself, I've been loving you too long, Respect and Ole man trouble; three covers by his idol, Sam Cooke, who was murdered four months previous to the record’s recording; and a cover of the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction, which led to its composer Keith Richards saying that Otis’ version was the definitive one.

Supporting the biggest soul voice in history is a top team that includes: Booker T. & the M.G.'s of Steve Cropper (the guitar of soul); the wind section comprising members of the The Mar-Keys and the The Memphis Horns and Isaac Hayes on piano. Stax is at the service of its top star who delivers some of the best performances of his career.   

The album opens with Ole Man Trouble, the least known of Redding’s three compositions, but it is at the same level as the other two classics. Respect is one of the most important songs of his career, a burst of energy in which one sees the most explosive Otis, with which it is impossible to remain still. To complete the trio of classics from Redding’s ink pen, I’ve been loving you too long, is possibly the definitive ballad from the man who has sung better ballads with more soul. An authentic delight.

For once the reliable Cropper does not appear writing together with the singer, but that doesn’t mean his contributions are less, as here appear his arpeggios and colours on I’ve been loving you too long, his 'bluesy' solo for Rock me baby ("play the blues, Steve!") and his beautiful intro for Ole Man Trouble. There are few times that a Telecaster has sounded better than when Cropper is accompanying Otis.

Otis Blue
, really entitled Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul, is the best and purest soul album recorded in a studio. The following year would see the arrival of the also marvellous Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul, but this is the true dictionary of the soul, its essence exalted on a unique and irrepeatable record.   

The Dock Of The Bay (1968)

The Dock Of The Bay
should not have been Otis Redding ‘s musical testament but the start of a new phase of his career. The song that gave the album its title was the last that Otis wrote and recorded before his tragic plane accident on 10 December 1967. It was his right hand man and great friend, Steve Cropper, who was left with the task of finishing a record that would simultaneously serve as a tribute and as a ‘presentation card’ to his magna obra. It was not a simple task, and the tears were frequent, but the guitar of the soul was ready to pay tribute to the voice with the most feeling in history.

The jewel in the crown of the record is (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay, composed by both Redding and Cropper barely a month before Redding’s death. After his success at the Monterrey Festival, Otis had the public of ‘peace and love’ in his pocket, but the festival also served for him to start to experiment with other sounds, and it was while he was looking over the San Francisco bay that the skeleton of Dock Of The Bay came to him. When he returned to Memphis he met with Cropper and said to him “grab your guitar, I have a hit”. They finished the music and lyrics between them, and the song for which he would always be remembered emerged. However Otis did not have time to listen to the final version; he simply recorded his voice over an acoustic guitar and suggested that some seagulls could be added at the start. With the ironies of fate, Steve Cropper finished recording the magnificent notes on his Telecaster and learnt two days later that the singer had died.

The song would end up being the only number 1 of Otis’ career, and the first to achieve this position posthomously, and Stax decided to put out an album around it. What might have become a simple excuse to make money from a tragedy became an excellent example of the incredible music made by Otis. Cropper involved himself fully in the project and, despite it not having great cohesion (there is nothing similar to that title song due to the fact that Otis did not have time to continue down that road) it is a perfect ‘entrance way’ to the work of this giant of soul.  

And the title song is not the only jewel that this album has: Let Me Come On Home benefits from an excellent guitar part by Cropper (where one can see the influence of Albert King, with whom he had recorded recently) and a strong bass line by Donald 'Duck' Dunn. Glory Of Love is constructed in a similar way to Try a Little Tenderness, recorded in February 1967 like the former song.

I Love You More Than Words Can Say
is another of those ‘house brand‘ ballads capable of putting the hairs on end. Like the other single released in 1967, Tramp is one of the great songs of his career, close to being funky, and his best collaboration with his ‘stable mate colleague’ Carla Thomas. The album closes by returning to the marvellous Ole Man Trouble that opened the fantastic Otis Blue, a kind of closing of the circle with which Cropper invites the listener who has discovered Otis through (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay to go deeper into into his marvellous works. 

It was 50 years ago that Otis Redding left us but his legacy continues being one of the corner stones of XX century music. This is demonstrated perfectly on these two anthological albums that are a perfect introduction to his legacy.