I can’t understand why classic soul artists are frequently utilized for soundtracks and various compilations while their full-length albums are allowed to fall out of print. I understand that the era focused a lot of attention on singles, but surely there were more than a few soul artists that had twelve-inches worth of good material.
Otis Redding is one of those artists, and unfortunately his catalog is often spliced to benefit those soundtracks and compilations. As good as those collections might be, they merely provide a brief reminder that recalls the movie scene or the nostalgic memory. What they fail to do is to provide a picture of the artist, which is something that a decent album has the ability to do.
Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul provides a snapshot, one day in 1965, but the music from that lengthy session provides a lifetime of emotion and an eternity worth of enjoyment. As amazing as the productivity of this session is, what’s even more shocking is the quality of what was produced. It’s the kind of album where you lament why we haven’t been able to find an artist of equal caliber since his death over forty years ago before comprehending that Otis Redding may indeed be one of those once in a lifetime artist. And this is what makes his untimely death such a tragedy.
Rhino’s recently issued collector’s edition not only demonstrates that, yes, these legendary soul artists could deliver an album’s worth of impeccable work, it also points to the embarrassing fact that the record companies let one of America’s premier recording of deep soul fall out of print while providing expanded re-issue treatments on lesser material from more forgettable artists.
Otis Redding is an unforgettable artist. The piece of the plane that carried him to an early passing can be found at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland was an emotional artifact for me as anything else in the exhibit. It’s a physical reminder of what was unfairly taken from us while Otis Blue is a document of how fully Redding must have lived his life. Each song is filled with so much gut-wrenching feeling that it’s hard to comprehend how a man so young at the time of the recording (26) could dig so deep within himself to keep bringing it over and over, take after take.
Ponder that for a moment: the Otis Blue sessions started in the morning, continued on until the evening, when members of the band had to stop to play a few gigs in Memphis for some extra dough, before resuming again after the gigs to wrap up the recordings. You hear no evidence of diminished returns from the band, no bitching about the long hours in the liner notes, and no change in the quality of Redding’s delivery as it fluctuates between heart wrenching ballads and roadhouse rave-ups with ease.
In the middle of this session, Otis needed to visit the doctor for a check up as required by his insurance company who were providing coverage for his upcoming tour. Seizing on the break in the action, the band visited a nearby record store, picked up a copy of the new Rolling Stones single “Satisfaction” and returned back to the studio to listen to it.
While still continuing to wait for Redding’s return, the band learned the chord changes, scribbled down the lyrics and handed them to Otis when he arrived back. Briefly glancing over the lyrics, Otis and the band laid down their own version of the song. Never mind that Redding pronounced “Satisfaction” as “Satisfashion,” what transpired in the studio that afternoon was a new version, practically surpassing the original, fueled entirely by the passion of a new groove.
And never mind that the majority of the tunes here are covers (three of them penned by his idol Sam Cooke); Redding adds his grits ‘n gravy to each one. It seems that, with Cooke out of the way (he died less than a year before these sessions took place) Redding makes a conscious decision to step up and claim the soul throne, a title in which he is awarded as evidence by every track on Otis Blue.
That throne means that Redding, who had his share of R&B hits up to this point, would have to make a move towards the predominantly white audience that made up the pop charts. The song selection on Otis Blue demonstrates this shift in direction but, remarkably, Redding doesn’t shortchange the very elements that brought him to the crown. There is no whitewashing here, just a careful selection of material meant to raise the curiosity of a wider audience, and once that audience hears it (meaning: you), there is absolutely no question why he and this album are vilified.
The bonus offerings are generous to the point that you’d expect from Rhino. Rounded out with era singles and b-sides, this edition of Otis Blue contains a pair of live sets that duplicate many of the songs while managing to sound nothing like each other. This is the way expanded editions should be addressed: paying close attention to the performance of the material rather than the collectibility of it, while ensuring the legacy of the original pressing remains.
Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul was already one of the greatest soul albums of all time before Rhino got their hands on it, but thankfully, they treated this collector’s edition with kid gloves. They’ve preserved the original document, added some very telling and relevant bonus material, and in the process, provided Redding with the proper treatment that he’s deserved and been neglected on for far too long.
It only took Redding one day to make your entire life just a little more fulfilling.
Video: Otis Redding – “Shake” (live at Monterey)
Video: Otis Redding – “Satisfaction” and “Try a Little Tenderness” (live at Monterey)