When he embarked on an historic European tour in the spring of 1967 as the headliner on an allstar bill that also featured Sam & Dave, Arthur Conley and Eddie floyd , Otis Redding was a genuine mainstream star -- not just back home, but all around the world .
He had escaped the rough-and-tumble juke joints and neighborhood theaters of Macon, Georgia, where he'd honed his searing vocal delivery as a house-rocking Little Richard disciple, and gone on to successfully audition for Memphis-based Stax/Volt Records in 1962. At Stax Otis posted a steady string of hits permeated in pure, glistening soul, as gripping as any recordings Ihen gracing the R&B hit parade.
Born September 9,1941, outside of Dawson, GA, but raised in Mocon, Otis had paid his dues in full . His first real break came when flamboyant southpaw guitarist Johnny Jenkins hired him as vocalist for his new band The Pinetoppers . Otis made a couple of pre-Stax 45s, the tonguetwisting rocker "Shout Bamalama" earning him a little Southern airplay, but it wasn't until he accompanied Jenkins to a session at Stax that his career ignited . The label' s skintight house band, Booker T. & The MG's, was on the date but didn't initially know that Redding could sing.
"Otis was the guy who was driving," remembers MG's guitarist Steve Cropper. "1 just thought he was sort of like a roadie guy." During Jenkins' instrumental session, Otis buttonholed MG' s drummer AI Jackson, Jr. "Everybody had split," says Steve . "Al come and said, ' Hey, have you got time to listen to this guy?' And I said, 'Sure, bring him on down.' So we got down by the piano.
"He starts singing 'These Arms Of Mine,' and we fell on the floor! This guy's voice and the idea of this song! We said, 'Wow!' [Stax co-owner] Jim Stewart came up - he just couldn't believe it. So he said, 'We gotta put this down! We gotto put this down now!' " The tremulous soul ballad "These Arms Of Mine" was Redding's first hit in early 1963. From then on he was seldom absent from the R&B charts, waxing the classics "Pain In My Heart," "Mr. Pitiful," "I've Been Loving You Too long (To Stop Now)," "Respect," "I Can't Turn You Loose," "My Lover' s Prayer" and "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Sang)." He wrote nearly all of his hits.
"Otis was one of those guys that just kept the guitar around all the time and had 15-20 ideas going," says Steve. "Little bits and pieces of this thing, and a hook line here, and a lyric there, and a title. And when he'd come to town, I'd go down that evening, and we'd start writing them."
The riveting performances on this DVD stem from two seminal concerts staged for very disparate audiences. The black-and-white footage was taped on April 7, 1967, in Oslo, Norway, during the spectacularly successful Stax/Volt European tour, which was a revelatory experience for the Stax troupe. "I had no idea that we were known that well, because they kept us in the studio so much that we never ventured out and did too much playing," says MG's bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn. "But once we got over there, I think it kind of opened our eyes to what was going on."
As Booker T. & The MG's and the three-piece Mor-Keys horn section backed him with the same crisp precision they brought to his studio sessions, Redding electrified a Norwegian throng that had seldom if ever experienced soul in the flesh . Otis bobbed and weaved like a prizefighter; he wasn't graceful like Jackie Wilson or suave like Sam Cooke, but he never stopped moving on the pile-driving "Shake" and "Satisfaction," taking them at supersonic speed.
Otis had serious competition on the tour from the sweat-soa ked dynamic duo Sam & Dove, whose onstoge energy levels nearly matched the headliner's as they stormed through " Hold Onll'm A (omin'." But it was Otis who caused the crowd to surge forward as he climaxed the show with "Try A liltle Tenderness," accelerating the formerly .edote ballad into a frenzy.
Contrast t?at triumph with Redding' s devastating appearance at the Monterey Pap Festival on June 17, 1967. -gain backed by.Jooker T. & The MG's with The Mar.Keys, Otis had the massive "love crowd'" - more of them ikely to be there in California to check out Jimi Hendrix, The Who and the GrateFul Dead rather thon Redding - in the palm of his hand from the opening "Shake."
"I think that was their first major awareness of Otis," says MG' s organist Booker T. Jones. "We played the Fillmore beFore, so they knew about us but not Otis." Redding tipped his hal 10 Aretha Franklin's then·recent remake before launching into "Respect," then torched "I've Been Loving You Too long" and "Satisfaction" belore closing his blistering la-minute segment with "Tenderness," all of it captured on color film by director D.A. Pennebaker and his cohorts.
Nlhot was amazing. We rehearsed about on hour-and-a-half before the show,Nsays Dunn, a splendidly animated onstage presence himself. "We hadn't played in a while." That informal hotel roam session was all the preparation they hod. "If you listen to 'Try A Little Tenderness,' there's a few mistakes we made/ he admits. "We didn't remember 'em all. It had the energy."
The world lost Otis Redding on December 10, 1967, when his plane went down in a lake near Madison, Wisconsin. Most of his young band, The Bar-Kays, tragically perished with him. One of his last creations, the uncharacteristically tranquil, deeply moving "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Boy," was polthumously released and become his top seller of all.
"He was bigger than life. He was awesome," says Cropper. "I don't think you'll ever find anybody that ever worked at Stax, or went in Ihere, or especially any of the musicians that played on any of those records, that didn't soy thot Otis wasn't their fovorite artist. They couldn 't wait for him to come back and record."
Thanks to this priceless video Footage, he'll always be with us.
- Bill Dahl