Thursday, June 22, 2017

Hard: Hard to Handle

Otis Redding: Hard to Handle



I remember that when I first heard the Blues Brothers do this song, I wondered why they were covering the Grateful Dead. Hard to Handle was a staple of their live shows in the early days of the Grateful Dead. Pigpen was the Dead’s designated blues singer in those days, and this song appeared to give him more trouble vocally than most. There are many concert versions that don’t say the best things about his voice if you listen too closely. Now at last I know why. Blues singing of the kind Pigpen did best is very different from soulful R&B shouting, as practiced by a master like Otis Redding. This is what Pigpen was trying for, and the Blues Brothers came closer. But there is simply no substitute for Otis Redding. In Redding’s hands, all of the power of this soulful boast is revealed, and you can hear why anybody would want to cover the song in the first place. But Redding delivers a performance that sounds so natural that the challenges of covering the song do not become apparent until you try it.

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