Before “Try A Little Tenderness” was a soul classic, it was a standard beloved of crooners. Little Miss Cornshucks was the first to give it an R&B edge in 1951, and Aretha Franklin recorded it in 1962, drawing from the Cornshucks version. But it was Sam Cooke’s interpretation of it, as part of a medley recorded at the Copacabana club in New York City, that inspired Otis Redding’s definitive version from 1966 (which we have cause to remember this month following the death last week of Andrew Love, who with fellow Memphis Horns founder Wayne Jackson played that iconic horn intro).
Sam Cooke was Redding’s idol, but unlike Cooke, Redding didn’t compromise. The medley here, recorded on 8 July 1964, is Cooke at his compromisingest: he sings two standards which the mostly white audience can identify with, and then delivers his big crossover hit. To hear Cooke in a soul environment, one has to hear the live album recorded at the Apollo, and unreleased until the mid-’80s.
But make no mistake, bubbling just under the surface at the Copa, and especially on the “Try A Little Tenderness” part of the medley (which Cooke apparently based on Aretha’s version), is Sam Cooke the soul singer, the gospel singer, the voice that Otis Redding idolised and which he heard when he set off to record the song originally recorded in 1932 by the Ray Noble Orchestra (and shortly after by Bing Crosby and Ruth Etting).
There is a lovely story that Redding actually didn’t want to record the song, which was arranged by Isaac Hayes, because he could not stand the idea of competing with the by then dead Sam Cooke, and so intentionally sang it in a way he thought would make the recording unreleasable.
For more on the background to “Try A Little Tenderness”, go HERE