Monday 25 June 2018

Otis Redding: Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Songs

You can now buy 'Change Gonna Come - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Otis Redding' in e-book form by clicking here!

I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important. Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely! Otis never did play that many shows as a solo act and when he did it was usually as part of a ‘package tour’ with other performers where he only got three or four songs in. Even so, there are some truly key moments of the Otis story contained here, from his first beginnings at the bottom of a star studded bill to his appearance at maybe the most star-studded bill ever assembled anywhere in the history of music, a gig which Otis owned and which made him famous. Otis may have played maybe a hundred (two hundred?) shows in his brief lifetime but I tell you something too: in all my research I never ever found a bad review of one of his gigs, which is remarkable (the worst anyone ever said was that Otis was amazing and his support act Sam and Dave were somehow even better!)
 Where: Apollo Theatre, New York When: November 13th 1963 Why: First Gig Setlist: [  ] Pain In My Heart [  ] These Arms Of Mine
Otis was already a seasoned live performer pro by the time he made his first gig as a solo act, thanks to stints with Little Richard’s backing band ‘The Upsetters’ and his own group ‘The Pinetoppers’. However this first gig couldn’t have been more nerve-wracking with such a lot riding on it. Atlantic records had signed up the services of Otis as the bottom-of-the-bill act on a who’s-who of music headlined by Ben E King and featuring such other stars as The Coasters, Doris Troy and Rufus Thomas. As if that wasn’t enough, Atlantic were financing the live performance as a record – Otis’ first to be released, though he was already deep into sessions for his debut. The first time the world would hear Otis’ voice, then, was as effectively the warm-up act to these huge names and he only had one shot to get it right. Even performing in the auditorium would be nerve-wracking: the arena seated 1500 people – a good thousand more than Otis had ever played to before in one go.What’s more, Atlantic wouldn’t finance Booker T and the MGs to perform with him, so Otis was left singing to an unfamiliar backing band. What’s more, he got swindled: offered a then princely $400 for the performing and recording rights for two songs, it was the most money Otis had made in one night up to that time by far. Imagine his horror, then, when Atlantic informed him at the last minute that it had cost $450 to make up the sheet music for King Curtis’ Band to play his two allotted songs, which left him in debt. Otis was a wreck before going on, lonely and isolated in his dressing room and feeling sick. It took King Curtis, with whom Otis quickly struck up a rapport, to tell him: ‘You got this: forget all the sea of faces, pick out one and imagine you’re alone in the room with her’. The trick worked and Otis’ first released performance, captured for posterity on a strong-selling soul record, is a good ‘un, with Otis blowing the other much more established performers of the stage with two smoky ballads. A talent had arrived.

1)  Where: Apollo Theatre, New York When: September 10th 1965 Why: Breakthrough Gig USA Setlist: Respect I’ve Been Loving You Too Long That’s How Strong My Love Is Papa Got A Brand New Bag

It took nearly another two years of flop singles, missed opportunities and a slow hard slog through the club circuits until Otis came back to The Apollo Theatre (the in-place to go for black soul singers) as a headlining act in his own right. By now Otis is in a good place: third and classic album ‘Otis Blue’ is five days away from release, he’s got a whole bunch of songs in his setlist that show off his natural range and after rubbing shoulders with many of soul’s names as a fellow ‘nearly’ star, he now has the likes of Dee Dee Stewart, The Marvellettes and chief rivals Sam and Dave opening for him. This marks the first time Otis would have sung two of his most famous songs in public: ‘Respect’ some two years before Areths Franklin had a hit with it and a smoky new ballad ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’. ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’, meanwhile, had been in the set for ages but was a much talked about song in 1965 courtesy of recent cover versions by The Hollies and The Rolling Stones.  Interestingly Otis also performs a track that he rarely sang in public: James Brown’s ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag’. Redding’s version won’t be released until the album ‘Live At The Whiskey-A-Go-Go’ many years after his death and suits him rather well, a tone down from James’ interpretation to become a slowly purring piece of funk rather than manic intensity.

2)  Where: Odeon Manchester UK When: September 17th 1966 Why: Breakthrough Gig UK Setlist: Unknown but sample from the same period consists of Respect My Girl Shake Day Tripper Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song) (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction Try A Little Tenderness

Though it took until the ‘Monterey’ performance of June 1967 for Otis to be a household name in his homeland, he was already a star in Europe thanks to a memorable tour there in 1966 on the back of strong sales for the ‘Otis Blue’ album. Peaking with this debut gig in Britain, Otis was regarded as a king of music in Europe where many of the day’s brightest and finest had namechecked him as a star of the future they admired – The Rolling Stones and The Animals, for instance, between them got Otis a coveted appearance on a ‘Ready Steady Go!’ TV special that year. Otis even had an ex Animal, Alan Price, as his ‘warm-up’ act for a coveted show that was the talk of the nation, for a few weeks at least. Perhaps more importantly, though, it’s the first time he worked with Booker T and the MGs on stage rather than just in the studio: aware that he needed a smaller band for financial costs, he reluctantly agreed that he would leave the Bar-Keys and the Mar-Keys behind and make the biggest splash possible (This pleased the organisers who also had the MGs as an act in their own right, playing their big 1962 UK hit ‘Green Onions’). By now Otis has a seriously strong live act, full of most of his celebrated classics, although unfortunately nobody thought to record this tour – it’s the more famous return the following year (with Otis the guinea pig for a whole troupe of Stax stars) that will be released posthumously as ‘Live In Europe’ and will be filmed for posterity, turned into the documentary-concert film of the same name. At the time of this show Otis admitted sheepishly to the Melody Maker that he’d never been out of America except for one brief holiday in Jamaica and had under-estimated the jetlag involved. Worryingly he talks about how excited he is to even be on a plane for only the second time in his life, a mere fifteen months before the one that will take his life. He must have put on a good show, though, as all the papers raved about him, as indeed they did for the rest of the brief tour. Otis did have to modify his setlist after this first gig though: told that his lyric in ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ of ‘a shaggy dress’ might be too rude (Americans don’t really have the slang term ‘shag’ for sex’) he made sure to sing the line as ‘shabby dress’ – over-exaggerating the enunciation to comic effect every time he sang it. The shows also marked the first time that Otis met his future duet partner Carla Thomas, who was also on the bill.

3)  Where: Monterey Pop Festival, California When: June 17th 1967 Why: Breakthrough Gig Planet! Setlist: Shake I’ve Been Loving You Too Long Respect (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction Try A Little Tenderness
The big one that made Otis a star! The Monterey Pop Festival was meant to celebrate all types of music around in the summer of love and the organisers (including The Mamas and The Papas and Paul Simon plus various Stones and Beatles) were adamant that black soul and r and b acts would have to be included to fulfil that request. At first, though, soul went down very badly with the ‘love crowd’ – on the Friday night Otis’ one-time rival Lou Rawls was the closest to a name act and his act went down poorly with the crowd. By the end of Saturday though, after so many free-wheeling psychedelic bands and Ravi Shankar, the crowd was growing restless. Not quite sure who Otis was, the crowd suddenly found that the performer had grabbed their attention. ‘Shake!’ bellowed Otis into the microphone, all trace of nerves gone, demanding the crowd join in with him, while working up a sweat. Otis was coming off the back of the 1967 European Stax tour and his confidence was sky-high. You can tell as rather than ignoring the crowd and singing to one woman he addresses everyone, commenting on the size and spectacle and treated the crowd intimately as if they’re all one person. This wasn’t just noisy soul either: Otis absolutely nailed his target audience, offering up a revved up Rolling Stones favourite to make up for those disappointed that band couldn’t come (though Brian Jones, in the crowd and a big Otis fan, must have loved it), a recent feminist anthem (‘Respect’ which Otis joked had just been ‘stolen’ from him) and aching ballad ‘Try A Little Tenderness’ which was so utterly perfect for its times with its mini-skirt dresses and talk of love. Otis nails the inter-song banter too, asking the audience ‘This is the love crowd, right? We all love each now don’t we? Let me hear you say yeah!!!!’ What the summer of love crowd wanted as much as love and peace and flowers, though, was authenticity and in Otis they found both. Within twenty minutes he went from being one of the most obscure acts on the bill to American white audiences to one of the most adored performers on the planet. Otis didn’t even get to play a full show (the second day of Monterey was over-running so badly he got yanked off stage after five songs, not the seven or eight he was planning to play) telling the audience ‘I gotta go – Lord, I don’t want to go!’ What are those other songs Otis might have played? Rumour is he had ‘Day Tripper’ all ready to go alongside ‘Satisfaction’ as his other tip of the hat to the 1960s’ premier bands who couldn’t show at Monterey (he used to perform ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ sometimes too), while he would surely have found room for his other major hits of the period ‘Mr Pitiful’ and ‘Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)’. By eliminating those two, though, Otis was canny: this wasn’t a day for pity or misery, this was a day for happiness. And he was no longer a lovable pitiable loser but the single hottest act on the planet. Overnight Otis’ back catalogue was suddenly high in the charts again, but the day changed Otis more than in terms of fame or money. The love and serenity and equality that he’d witnessed at Monterey fed its way into his writing and his last batch of songs are very different to the ones he played at the gig, influenced by the psychedelia and folk of the other acts around him. Otis was a changed man.
4)  Where: Leo’s Casino, Cleveland When: December 9th 1967 Why: Final Gig Setlist: Respect Try A Little Tenderness Knock On Wood Satisfaction Tramp (incomplete)
Unfortunately Otis didn’t live long enough for us to see much of that change on-stage. Just six months later here we are at his final show. Otis’ last full day on Earth was a very busy day as his promoters urged him to build up as much interest in his Christmas shows as he could. Otis and his Mar Keys and Bar Keys backing band criss-crossed America a lot, playing endless shows here and there (1967 is by far the busiest of his touring years). This week it was Cleveland’s turn, Otis playing three shows that week (this being the last) with an appearance on TV show ‘Upbeat’ in the afternoon. It apparently went down very well, as Otis had done all year; certainly the TV footage is some of Otis’ absolute best. The very next day they had a gig to play at the University of Wisconsin and took off, unwilling to cancel despite some nasty Wintry weather. Knowing that he had a busy few months ahead of him, Otis had even invested in an aeroplane in the Autumn for his band to speed things up, chartering a Beechcraft H18, one of the most successful plane types in the world (at least until 1969 when, partly due to its involvement in Otis’ death, it was pulled from service). Nobody quite knows what went wrong but, only four miles from home, their plane radioed in or help and a request for an emergency landing. They never made it. Instead the plane crashed into Lake Wisconsin, at the time packed full of deadly ice. Otis, four members of the Bar-Keys band, their valet and the pilot all died in the crash, with trumpet player Ben Cauley the only survivor (he had undone his seatbelt when he felt something might be wrong and got thrown clear of the wreckage) and Otis’ lifeless body was discovered the next day still in the seat he was strapped into. This mean that Cleveland unexpectedly became the site of his last full performance. Sadly we don’t have a full setlist for this show, which by Otis’ standards was one of his smallest gigs post-Monterey. It seems likely though that he would have ended the set the way he usually did with ‘Try A Little Tenderness’, while the last song he sang in public on that TV show was in retrospect an ironic choice: the ‘I need good luck’ song ‘Knock On Wood’. Otis never did get to sing in public a song he’d recorded that very same busy week ‘Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay’.

That passing on of the musical baton works the other way too and there are lots of acts who were in turn inspired by Otis. Some of them even covered his songs and in this other regular feature we give you three covers that we consider to be amongst the very best out of the ones we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) The trouble with Otis is that he didn’t write all that many of his songs himself – perhaps ten released in his lifetime and another ten that came out posthumously. Perhaps that’s why to date Otis has only ever had the one ‘tribute’ LP ‘Soul Instinct’, which is unusual for an artist who died so young and so loved. Recorded live in 1993, it’s a bit of an oddball as live LPs go (even if Rufus Thomas in particular turns in a good set). Instead we’ve looked to three rather more studio-bound recordings for our list. Interestingly all three are covered by girls – why does Otis’ songs appeal so much to female singers I wonder?  Is it the tenderness underneath all that power? The fact that Otis, as ‘Mr Pitiful’, was more approachable by the other gender than other soul singers? The success of the irst big Otis cover song as listed here as our first entry? Or is it just that male singers know that they can’t ever get close to the original?

1)   [   Respect (Aretha Franklin, A Side, 1967)
‘I had this song that this girl stole from me, a good friend of mine, this girl she just took this song – but I’m still gonna do it anyway!’ That’s how Otis introduced this song to the Monterey crowd in June 1967 out of ‘respect’ to Aretha Franklin who had scored a huge hit with this track earlier in the year. Most of the crowd were surprised: Otis’ original was an album track that hadn’t made much impact and many in the crowd wondered why a man was huffing and puffing a feminist anthem on stage. The song wasn’t written that way originally though – knowing Otis he probably had the Civil Rights movement in the back of his mind when he wrote this song, although the starting point was a grumpy trip home in a tour bus with backing band The MGs when Otis was griping about getting ‘no respect’ and drummer Al Jackson’s response ‘well, maybe you’ll find respect at home’. Jerry Wexler, producer of Otis’ version, loved the song and recommended it to Aretha who back in 1967 was on the cusp of stardom and looking for a breakthrough song. She had never met Otis at the time of recording and was a bit nervous of it, having altered some of his words and arrangement along with the help of her backing singer sister Carolyn Franklin (this is where the ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T. tell you what it means to me’ version common to all the other cover versions that follow originates, along with soul’s first ever ‘sock it to mes’). Figuring the song needed  a bridge, Wexler then copied a part from a Sam and Dave song he liked ‘When Something Is Wrong With Me Baby’. The new arrangement was a huge hit,  spending two weeks at the top of Billboard (the only Otis song to do so in his lifetime), especially with the feminist movement who saw all sorts of things in this song that weren’t anywhere near Otis’ thoughts on the original. Thanks partly to Otis’ push at Monterey the song re-charted all over again in July 1967 and inspired a whole bunch more cover versions from Diana Ross to Joss Stone. Aretha’s remains the best, though, with the most heart and a liveliness that only Otis’ original can match.
2)  [  ] Security (Etta James A Side 1968)
I was always surprised that Otis and Etta’s careers never crossed paths – a similarly polite yet powerful singer, like Otis she combined the sheer power and charisma of Otis Redding with the subtlety and depth of an idol they shared, Sam Cooke (she even went to his funeral). Surely a far more suitable choice for the ‘King and Queen’ album of duets than Carla Thomas, Etta was only three years Otis’ senior but had already achieved a huge career before he’d even got going, scoring her first hit aged fifteen. Her career was on the wane by the time the Beatles came along and washed her style of r and b/jazz hybrid away and she was getting increasingly ill thanks to an addiction to heroin and prescription painkillers. Maybe some of that bleeds into her jaw-dropping performance of one of Otis’ more obscure original songs, released as a tribute to him just a few weeks after he died in early 1968. Rather than ‘respect’ Etta longs for ‘security, at any costs’ and this song is a good foil for Aretha’s cover, demanding faith and love from her man in a similarly powerful way. She doesn’t change as much as Aretha did, but does find the time to add a few lines here and there: ‘Your love is alright, but I need a little more honey!’ she cackles at one point. An impressive cover, also included on the album ‘Tell Mama’ which AAA fans might be intrigued to learn features the original of one of Janis Joplin’s most recorded songs as its title track.
3)  [  ] I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (Cat Power ‘From The Dark End Of The Street’ 2008)
Timeless music never dates and I wonder how much of Cat Power’s 21st century audience realised that this song was forty years old at the time it was recorded here. Born Charlyn Marie Marshall in Atlanta, Georgia, local lad Otis was an obvious influence for this smoky-voiced former model. Otis’ slowest tempoed original ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ is a good match for Cat’s vocals as she teases out every note against a backing that’s more jazz than soul, though keeping in Steve Cropper’s increasingly fragile sounding guitar riffs. The drums a little bit heavy and boom-thwacky, but otherwise the arrangement is impressively simple and could itself have come straight out of the 1960s. Well worth hearing – Otis covers could become a habit to me after three of the better AAA trios out there.

A Now Complete List Of Otis Redding Articles To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

'The Soul Album' (1966)

'Complete and Unbelievable - The Otis Redding Dictionary Of Soul!' (1966)

‘King and Queen’ (1967, with Carla Thomas)

Surviving TV Footage 1965-1967 plus The Best Unreleased Recordings

Live/Compilation/Rarities Albums 1963-2014

Otis Redding Essay: It Takes Two – The Art Of Melancholy In Soul Music


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