Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Otis Redding - (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay!

I just picked up another single full of history through my vinyl digging adventures. 

(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay is one of the most beloved songs by Otis Redding. Writing began where else, but while sitting on a houseboat, enjoying the moment. He had bits and pieces of the song written and went to Steve Cropper (Stax producer and guitarist in Booker T and the M.G.’s) to help him finish.  


Otis was backed by Booker T and the MG’s, the house band at Stax, for the recording of the song. Members were: Steve Cropper on guitar, Donald Duck Dunn on bass, Al Jackson on drums, Booker T on piano, and Wayne Jackson on horns.

This song was quite different from Otis’ early recordings, leaving the classic soul sound for a more pop-oriented feel. There are also lots of effects added to the recording giving it the ‘on the dock’ feel. This included sounds of waves crashing in and seagulls in the distance. Some of the seagull sound was created by Cropper overdubbing electric guitar fills (not quite sure the exact science of how he accomplished this, but I thought it was a fun fact). The remaining seagull sounds were added in a later date through sound effects. Another memorable part of the song is the ending. When Cropper was arranging the song he left an instrumental break at the end so Otis could ab-lib, but at the moment he couldn’t think of anything so he instead whistled, which worked out nicely.

The song was presented to Stax president Jim Stewert, but he was not impressed. He wanted a typical soul song from Otis, not something so different. Otis strongly disagreed, believing the song would be a huge hit. Unfortunately, Otis didn’t get the chance to see the look on Stewert's face when he was proved wrong. Just a few days after recording was completed in December 1967, Otis and five touring band members (and the pilot) were killed in a plane crash.

Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler asked for an Otis single as soon as possible (Atlantic handled distribution for Stax) upon hearing of his death. Cropper went to the studio and mixed (Sittin’ On)The Dock of the Bay. Jerry didn’t like the initial mixing, requesting Otis’ vocals to be louder. Cropper, who was happy with the mix, left it alone and instead switched it from stereo to mono which made the vocals a little louder, tricking Jerry.

The single was released on January 8, 1968 on Volt Records (owned by Stax) and became Otis’ first single to chart after his death and also winning two Grammy’s: Best R&B Performance and best R&B Song.

The copy I have is on the Atco label and is an original Canadian pressing (Atco, a subsidiary of Atlantic, had a partnership for distribution with Stax from 1961-68). I don’t see this particular pressing online often since Canada was the only country to release it on the Atco label making it a bit more collectable, often demanding a higher price.

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