Sunday, March 1, 2009

Bodies of Water: (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay

Otis Redding: (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay


The visceral effect this song (with its rushing surf and bluesy guitar and mournful whistling) has on me can now be explained, as I only just learned (or remembered) the tune was released posthumously - Wikipedia backstory here:

While on tour with the Bar-Kays in August 1967, Redding wrote the first verse of the song, under the abbreviated title "Dock of the Bay," at a houseboat on Waldo Pier in Sausalito, California. He had come off his famed performance at the Monterey Pop Festival just months earlier in June 1967. While touring in support of the LPs King & Queen (collaborations with female vocalist Carla Thomas) and his live set Live in Europe, he continued to scribble lines of the song on napkins and hotel paper. In November of that year he joined producer and guitarist Steve Cropper at the Stax recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee.

In a 1990 interview on NPR's Fresh Air, Cropper explained the "origins" of the song:

“Otis was one of those kind of guys who had 100 ideas. Anytime he came in to record he always had 10 or 15 different intros or titles, or whatever. He had been at San Francisco playing The Fillmore, and he was staying at a boathouse, which is where he got the idea of the ship coming in. That's about all he had: "I watch the ships come in and I watch them roll away again." I took that and finished the lyrics. If you listen to the songs I wrote with Otis, most of the lyrics are about him. He didn't usually write about himself, but I did. "Mr. Pitiful," "Sad Song (Fa-Fa);" they were about Otis' life. "Dock Of The Bay" was exactly that: "I left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay" was all about him going out to San Francisco to perform.”

Together, they completed the music and melancholy lyrics of "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." From those sessions emerged Otis Redding's final recordings, including "Dock of the Bay," which was recorded on November 22, with additional overdubs on December 8. The result was a song quite different in style from most of Redding's other recordings, but one with which he was very pleased. While discussing his latest song with his wife, Redding stated that he wanted to "be a little different" with "The Dock of the Bay" and "change his style". There were concerns that "The Dock of the Bay" had too much of a pop feel for an Otis Redding record, and contracting Stax gospel act The Staples Singers to recording backing vocals was discussed, but never carried out.

Redding continued to tour after the recording sessions and, on December 10, the charter plane which was carrying him crashed into Lake Monona, outside Madison, Wisconsin. Redding and six others were killed. Only one passenger survived, Ben Cauley of The Bar-Kays. Redding's body was recovered from the lake the day after the crash.

"(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" was released in January 1968 amid the fall-out of Redding's death. R&B stations readily added the song to their playlists, which had been saturated with Redding's previous hits. The song shot to number one on the R&B charts in early 1968. By early summer of that year, "Dock of the Bay" topped the pop charts. The album, which shared the song's title, was released and became his largest selling to date, peaking at number four on the Pop Albums chart. "Dock of the Bay" went on to gain success in countries across the world, and brought Redding the greatest success of his career. The song went on to win two Grammy Awards: Best R&B Song (for songwriting) and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (for vocals).

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