Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings The Blues


Ben Hopes

If Sam Cooke’s voice wrote the founding document that joined gospel to popular music then Otis Redding’s voice was that of a foot soldier defending his legacy at the crossroads of soul and blues music. Cooke’s voice testified from the pulpit while Redding’s was a supplication, brother-to-brother, at times full of pain and raw power, at other times love and tenderness. Often his songs covered this range in a matter of a few minutes with relative ease. Listen to Otis’ cover of his idol Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and you can hear him pleading for understanding, his voice imbued with the tragedy that accompanied the everyday lives of baby boomer African-Americans. His pleading in the “I go to my brother” bridge is an exquisite rendering of a soul lost in translation among his fellow men.

Redding’s remarkable talent was his inspiring ability to interpret the texts given him; he covers two more Cooke songs on Otis Blue, “Shake” and “Wonderful World,” both of which he turns on their respective heads. “Shake” is sped up to a mid-60s discotheque-bouncing groove while “Wonderful World” is inspired by the very Cha-Cha rhythms that Cooke made popular.

Redding covers Solomon Burke (“Down In The Valley”), The Temptations (“My Girl”), B.B. King (“Rock Me Baby”), and the Rolling Stones (“Satisfaction”), proving the breadth of the influences that he stamped with his own powerful style. “My Girl” sashays with the ease of a man who sings happily early in the morning as his love lies asleep while “Rock Me Baby” swings with a bluesy swagger worthy of King’s original licks. He sang “Satisfaction” so well that the Rolling Stones were accused of having stolen the song from Redding, ironic, considering that his own original song, “Respect,” was transformed into the immortal crossover hit by Aretha Franklin. Redding would later joke at the Monterey Pop Festival that it was a song “that a girl took away from me, a friend of mine, a girl she just took this song.”

The other Redding compositions, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and “Ole Man Trouble,” are wonderful, highlighting Redding’s own compositional talent. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” is a painful love song, where man and woman would be better off without each other but can’t seem to figure out how to break away. It has been used in countless movies and T.V. shows, as though each producer knows that with just Redding’s one note at the beginning, he/she can get a viewer hooked not only on the scene but also on a feeling. “Ole Man Trouble” is a meditation on the relationship between the singer and blues he/she sings, dark and mysterious.

Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul is Redding’s first masterwork, a painterly description of soul music that vacillates between plaintive ballads and up-tempo stomps that illustrate what soul is, from A to Z. What remains after listening to Otis Blue is the immortal power of Otis’ voice, how it invites and informs you with pain and tenderness, wit and bravura, to stand witness to his testimony of soul music.