The Stax special on PBS was interesting but, like Huck, I felt they missed a golden opportunity to focus on the artists and music, rather than focus so much on the Civil Rights Movement. Not that it’s not important, it’s just that there is significant information and other documentaries that have covered these issues, in depth. This particular documentary had the opportunity to really educate people on the music of the day and it’s profound affect on the music of the next 40 years.
It did spark my curiosity about a few thoughts from the program and got my research fingers to working. Of course, the special prominently featured Otis Redding as he was the center of the Stax world in the late ’60s.
With his band, Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers, Otis showed up at Stax in Memphis in 1962. From the Otis Redding website:
The session was not going well, so Jim Stewart, Stax co-owner, allowed Otis to cut a couple of songs with the studio time that had been booked. The result was “These Arms of Mine”, released in 1962. This was the first of many hit singles (including classics “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”, “Respect”, and “Try A Little Tenderness”) that Redding enjoyed during his tragically short lifetime.
While the Bar-Kays were Otis’ back-up band on many songs and performances, Booker T. and the MGs — the stellar Stax session band comprising of Booker T. Jones (organ), Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass), Steve Cropper (guitar) and Al Jackson (drummer) — the only notable, integrated band of that day, provided back-up on Otis’ last and most recognizable song, Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.
The song was written by Otis and guitarist Steve Cropper and recorded a mere three days before Redding’s tragic death. Redding was inspired when actually staying on San Fransisco Bay (Sausilito) when he played The Fillmore in the Summer of 1967, resulting in the wonderfully soulful Dock of the Bay.
When he crashed his new plane into that Wisconsin lake in December of 1967 (along with 4 members of the Bar-Kays), Otis Redding left a wife of 5 years and four young children. He was 26.
He also left a bereft and forever changed Stax organization. Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay was released posthumously, and the song was #1 for 4 weeks in 1968. Interestingly, the last part of the song of Otis whistling was just a filler in the initial recording that was going to be replaced in final mixing by additional lyrics. Of course, Otis never made the final mixing, but little did he know that this whimsical whistling would provide such a wonderful and unique touch to a song that emblazon his memory on generations….and that it would be his swan song.
Here is Steve Cropper’s Tribute to Otis in Rolling Stone. Hard to believe it’s been 40 years….
Here is an interview of Otis Redding in March of 1967, a scant 9 months before his death. He’s prolific about Rock & Roll and “the blues” and perhaps his own demise…