Category Archives: Otis Redding

Rocks In The Attic #756: Various Artists – ‘Stax Does The Beatles’ (2008)

RITA#756This year’s Record Store Day was an embarrassment of riches. Not only did it deliver a bunch of sought-after soundtracks, but the funk and soul fan in me was well looked after too.

First released digitally back in 2008, a now double-LP of Stax artists doing Beatles covers sounds like something I’d make up in my dreams. Two of my favourite musical pillars colliding, the only thing that would beat this would be the unearthing of a secret LP of Stax songs recorded by the Fab Four themselves between Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s. I’ll keep dreaming about that one.

In fact, it doesn’t take much to imagine what Stax Does The Beatles sounds like. Much of the material collected here is available on the individual Stax releases they’re culled from, with only one or two hard to find tracks included. Probably the most famous cover, Otis Redding’s Day Tripper, is presented as an alternate take that’s just as rocking as the well-known version found on his Dictionary Of Soul from 1966. Another gem is a cover of And I Love Her, a b-side by Reggie Milner who only recorded two singles for Stax.

RITA#756aStax house-band Booker T. & The M.G.s  – once going so far as to record an entire LP in homage to the Beatles – turn in the highest number of performances on the album, responsible for four of its fifteen tracks (five if you include guitarist Steve Cropper’s solo effort of With A Little Help From My Friends, the title-track of his 1969 album).

The album’s liner notes make reference to the little-known fact that Brian Epstein once scouted the Stax studios as a potential place to record the Beatles. His visit to Memphis in March 1966 ultimately led to nothing – Epstein abandoned the idea due to fears over security – and the resulting album, 1966’s Revolver, was recorded back at Abbey Road like the majority of their work. It sounds like a match made in heaven though. “Who knows what it would have sounded like had we recorded it at Stax,” ponders Cropper.  Paul McCartney’s soulful Got To Get You Into My Life, covered here by Booker T. & The M.G.s, remains Revolver’s only glimpse of how close the Beatles came to recording a soul and R&B-influenced album in 1966.

The liner notes do make a glaring omission, however. Of all the records in the world, this really was the place to mention that John Lennon used to jokingly refer to the Stax house-band as Book-A-Table & The Maitre-D’s.

Hit: Day Tripper (Alternate Take) – Otis Redding

Hidden Gem: Something – Isaac Hayes

RITA#756b

Rocks In The Attic #503: Otis Redding – ‘Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul’ (1965)

RITA#503Probably Redding’s most famous of the studio albums he recorded during his short life, this is album number three of six. It earned a little more attention than its predecessors due to its frantic cover of the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction which adorns the second side. It therefore finds its way into most rock-centric record collections. It’s usually the only Otis Redding record that appears in top albums of all times lists; and more often than not, it’s one of only a handful of soul albums to appear. In Rolling Stone’s Top 500, the record places at a respectable 75.

The record is mainly a bunch of covers, with only three songs penned by Redding himself. Also covered are songs by BB King, the Temptations, Solomon Burke, William Bell and three Sam Cooke songs.

The album was recorded within a 24-hour period in July, which is a great example of how quickly Stax could produce white hot material in the mid-‘60s. As per Redding’s previous albums, he was backed by Booker T.  & The M.G.s, with horns supplied by a mixture of the Mar-Keys and the Memphis Horns.

Donald “Duck” Dunn’s bass line on Respect has always interested me. It sounds very similar to McCartney’s bass line on the Beatles’ Drive My Car. Almost too similar, if you know what I mean. A cursory look at the dates shows that Redding’s song had been released as a single in August 1965, a full two months before the Beatles recorded Drive My Car.

Ian McDonald in Revolution In The Head, his seminal analysis on the Beatles’ recording career, points out that George Harrison had been listening to Redding’s Respect when they recorded Drive My Car. It sounds like it was Harrison’s urging that they record the song with a heavy bottom-ended, dual bass and guitar riff.

So there was definitely some musical thievery going on with Drive My Car, but it’s impossible to say whether McCartney or Harrison was the chief magpie.

Hit: I’ve Been Loving You Too Long

Hidden Gem: What A Wonderful World

Rocks In The Attic #293: Otis Redding – ‘History Of Otis Redding’ (1968)

RITA#293It’s funny how some musicians become saints when they die young, and others are just glossed over. I don’t think I ever want to see another t-shirt with the faces of Kurt Cobain, Bob Marley and Jim Morrison draped in moonlight, but still there they are, in the type of shops that typically attract the fat, lazy and stupid.

Perhaps Otis died too young – he was only twenty six at the time of his death, a year younger than the mythical age that might have guaranteed him a place on those t-shirts.

Redding died in December 1967, and there’s a pretty horrible photo of him being pulled out of the frozen lake that his plane crashed into. There’s an equally horrible set of photos of him, from a couple of days prior to the crash, which show Redding standing next to his new plane outside the aircraft hangar, beaming with pride over his new acquisition. These have more impact than the crash photo, if only because they paint a picture of youth and exuberance that was very soon snuffed out.

History Of Otis Redding was the very first of countless Otis compilations, but the only one released in his lifetime, just a month before his death. I often wonder where he would have ended up had he not died – there are dozens of singers from that era of soul – Wilson Pickett, Eddie Floyd, William Bell etc – that drifted into obscurity in one way or another. Who’s to say that Otis Redding wouldn’t have done the same thing? The question mark comes with his appearance at the 1967 Monterey Pop festival, and his apparent crossover into the pop mainstream. Unfortunately it’s a question that will never be answered.

I’ll just have to keep looking out for a t-shirt of Otis Redding’s’ face draped in moonlight…

Hit: Try A Little Tenderness

Hidden Gem: I Can’t Turn You Loose

Rocks In The Attic #76: Otis Redding – ‘Live In Europe’ (1967)

Rocks In The Attic #76: Otis Redding - ‘Live In Europe’ (1967)In terms of music gifted to me, this has to be up there with the best of them. A birthday present from my good friend Moo, this is one of the gems of my record collection – a March 1967 recording of Otis Redding, backed by Booker T. & The M.G.’s, in Paris. The record was released in December of that same year, exactly five months before his death, making this the last Otis Redding release while he was still alive.

I think the reason I like this album so much is that it’s two of my favourite Stax artists – Otis and Booker T. & The M.G.’s – all for the price of one. It’s like that time I went to see AC/DC and The Wildhearts were the support band.

Hit: Try A Little Tenderness

Hidden Gem: Day Tripper

Rocks In The Attic #29: The Bar-Kays – ‘Soul Finger’ (1967)

Rocks In The Attic #29: The Bar-Kays - ‘Soul Finger’ (1967)Thanks to my Dad, I have this in my collection – an original version of The Bar-Kays’ debut on Volt Records – Stax’s sister label – with the cover held together with a couple of strategically placed pieces of sellotape.

Soul Finger is a great soul record, drawing comparisons to label-mates Booker T. & The M.G.’s, mainly as they’re both organ-driven instrumental groups. The Bar-Keys are a little less organ-heavy compared to the earlier group, but with a brassier sound due to their compliment of saxophone and trumpet.

The band was cut down in its prime as a result of being picked up by Otis Redding as his backing band. Four of the six original members died in the same 1967 plane crash that took his life (only the trumpeter survived the crash, and the bass player was on another flight). The Bar-Kays were then repopulated with replacements, and went on to back many other Stax artists – most notably playing on Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul album – and released records all the way into the 1980s.

The Blues Brothers play a great version of the song Soul Finger, as the opening to their Made In America live LP. It’s fitting that Cropper and Dunn play that version, as the M.G.’s were instrumental (no pun intended) in cultivating The Bar-Kays through the ranks at Stax / Volt.

Soul Finger and one of The Bar-Kays’ later songs, Too Hot To Stop, also feature on the soundtrack to 2007’s Superbad.

Hit: Soul Finger

Hidden Gem: Pearl High

Rocks In The Attic #12: Sam & Dave – ‘Star-Collection’ (1974)

Stax, without a doubt, has to be my favourite record label. And Sam & Dave are my favourite Stax artists – although depending on what mood I’m in, it could be Otis or Booker T & The MGs.

This album, a collection of their singles, is a German release – and from what I can see on the internet, it has the tracklisting as 1969’s The Best Of Sam & Dave, although the songs are presented in order.

I think that that album – the 1969 collection – is what Jake and Elwood are listening to in the Bluesmobile, on an 8-track cartridge, when they first get pulled over by the police in The Blues Brothers (1982). It’s a shame Sam & Dave didn’t feature in that film – it would have been fitting for them to have been backed by Cropper and Dunn, from the Stax backing band – but they had just given up touring the previous year on New Year’s Eve, 1981 and never spoke to each other again.

The vast majority of the songs here are written by Isaac Hayes, and his Stax writing partner David Porter – just a few years before Hayes became a household name in his own right. I have the DVD of them performing on the Stax / Volt tour of Europe back in 1967, and it’s clear that they were the hardest-working act on the label, leaving a puddle of sweat on the stage, only for Otis to add to it during his headlining slot.

Hit: Soul Man

Hidden Gem: You Don’t Know Like I Know