Tag 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

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Rocks In The Attic #750: Aretha Franklin – ‘I Never Loved A Man Like I Love You’ (1967)

RITA#750This is far from being Aretha Franklin’s debut album, but it feels like the start of something. Released in 1967, as the first album of her contract with Atlantic Records, it’s actually her tenth studio album following her true debut on Columbia back in 1961.

Jerry Wexler, co-partner of Atlantic alongside Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegün, must have been rubbing his hands with glee as he produced the title track with Aretha and the Muscle Shoals rhythm section at FAME studios in Alabama. That song would be strong enough to carry a record of lesser material – as seemed to be the norm throughout much of the 1960s, particularly with regard to soul and R&B releases – but Aretha was only just getting started.

The album kicks off with Respect, her cover of Otis Redding’s song from 1965’s Otis Blue. I seldom believe that a cover version can better the original, but Aretha’s version of the song completely eclipses Redding’s original. It’s so good, it makes his version sound like the weaker cover song.

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Having recorded the song at Atlantic Records’ New York studios (but retaining the Muscle Shoals studio musicians), co-producer Arif Mardin is credited with overseeing Aretha’s rearranged version of the song. It’s clear that magic was being captured during the session. “I’ve been in many studios in my life, but there was never a day like that,” Mardin says. “It was like a festival. Everything worked just right.”

Fifty years on, the song has been diluted somewhat by its overuse in advertising commercials, films and TV shows, but I like to think that some of its original impact remains as an anthem for both the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights movements.

Hit: Respect

Hidden Gem: Save Me

Rocks In The Attic #744: Janis Joplin – ‘Pearl’ (1971)

RITA#744I’m not saying the rest of my pub quiz team are not up to scratch, but this week we were faced with a multiple choice question: Which of these three people didn’t die at the age of 27? Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, or Bob Marley.

I wrote down Bob Marley, of course; the other two being probably the most famous inductees of the original ’27 Club’, alongside Jim Morrison.

‘Janis Joplin isn’t dead,’ one of my team-mates said. ‘She was on tour here last year.’

Not only is it annoying to be questioned on something you know to be 100% correct, it’s also frustrating to have to explain yourself – particular to somebody from the generation that the question is relevant to.

‘No, she wasn’t’ I countered. ‘She definitely died at 27. The answer’s Bob Marley.’

‘Oh,’ my team-mate replied, unconvinced. ‘So Bob Marley was younger than 27?’

‘No, he will have been older,’ I said, losing the will to live myself.

As we found out when they read out the answer, Marley died at 36. I couldn’t go into the myth around him being killed by Danny Baker. There was no time.

RITA#744aPearl is Janis’ second and final studio album, released three months following her death from a heroin overdose. As well as featuring an instrumental – Buried Alive In The Blues – because she died before adding her vocals, the album also features the very last song she ever recorded.

Recorded just three days before her death, Mercedes Benz has become famous more recently for appearing in a, you guessed it, Mercedes-Benz commercial. The song is a sweet a capella by Joplin, espousing the merits of consumerism, and sounds just as haunting as Otis Redding’s final session which produced (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.

Incidentally, Otis didn’t even make 27. He died shortly after his 26th birthday.

Hit: Mercedes Benz

Hidden Gem: Move Over

Rocks In The Attic #689: Percy Sledge – ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’ (1966)

RITA#689If there was ever a song that was made to be played in a funeral parlour, it’s When A Man Loves A Woman by Percy Sledge. Not only does it feature a morbid – but beautiful – Farfisa organ intro played by Spooner Oldham, the mood of the song is one of heartbreak – the perfect fodder to soundtrack a casket advancing into the flames of the cremation chamber.

The rest of the record is of a similar theme, with Sledge’s lyrics recounting the loves he’s lost – all driven by that wonderful organ. Spooner’s organ that it, not Sledge’s problematic member.

Quite a few of these ‘60s soul albums by male artists feature a generic female model on the cover; a couple of Otis Redding’s spring to mind. I wonder how many children saw Sledge’s debut record in their parents’ collections and figured that this pretty white lady was called Percy, or that the blonde lady on the cover of Otis Blue / Otis Sings Soul was named Otis.

Not only did Percy Sledge live to the ripe old age of 74 (passing away just a few years ago in 2015), he had no less than twelve children – three of which went on to become singers in their own right.

Hit: When A Man Loves A Woman

Hidden Gem: Thief In The Night

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 #474: Various Artists – ‘Stax – Number Ones’ (2010)

RITA#474Stax Records: my favourite record label, hands down. Grittier than Motown, a talent pool for Atlantic, and a tale of a rags to riches underdog in a socially conscious and racially integrated framework, Stax has got it all. The 2007 documentary (Respect Yourself: The Stax Record Story) is essential viewing, but I’m waiting for the big budget Hollywood film to tell the story. Idris Elba as Otis Redding, anyone?

Brother and Sister Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton started a country label, called Satellite Records, out of their garage in the late 1950s, but it was when they started recording R&B and changed their name to Stax that they got the attention of Atlantic Records, who picked them up with a distribution deal.

Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, Eddie Floyd, The Staple Singers, and of course, the Stax house band Booker T. & The M.G.s.; the label’s roll-call read like a who’s who of ‘60s and ‘70s soul acts. There’s something there for everyone, and a bunch of great number one hit singles, as this collection attests.

The Atlantic partnership proved to be the best and worst thing to happen to Stax though, and this is why it would be great subject material for a film. By distributing their records, and sometimes using the Stax studios to record artists on their own label, Atlantic acted as a protective big brother to Stax; but not for long.

In 1967, Atlantic was sold to Warners, and Stax fell by the wayside. Jim Stewart asked for the return of the Stax masters, but found out that Atlantic’s cuntish lawyers had included a clause in the 1965 distribution contract that gave away the rights to the Stax material to Atantic. Betrayed by his more savvy business partners and by his own naivety, Stewart eventually drove Stax into bankruptcy after a few short years as an independent. Such a shame.

I can’t remember the first time I heard about Stax. It was probably through my Dad, who has a great compilation – Atlantic Soul Classics – which captures (exploits?) a couple of acts from the Stax roster. I’ve since picked up that album on vinyl. After that, it was probably going back and discovering Booker T. & The M.G.s via the Blues Brothers. Good times.

Hit: (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay – Otis Redding

Hidden Gem: Who’s Making Love – Johnnie Taylor

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