With the release of the fourth posthumous Otis Redding album, perhaps it’s time to examine the Pedding legend and reassess his position in the pop pantheon. Unquestionably, the man had superb talents — both as composer-songwriter and, especially, as live performer. Equally factual, however, is the necrophiliac aspect of his worshippers’ adoration. As a result of his stand-out Monterey appearance, his long-overdue and at-last-breaking recognition, and his subsequent untimely death, Otis’ pop reputation skyrocketed. “Dock of the Bay” seemed to herald a major breakthrough in patterned Memphis soul music. And Stax-Volt (later Atco) managed to piece together strong albums from unreleased tapes, plus a few early recordings: Dock of the Bay, The Immortal Otis Redding. He became the Kennedy of rock, the mythic hero cut down in the prime of life. (At least Otis’ death didn’t seem sacrificial.)
Face it, folks. Otis Redding is dead. He was a good, no, a great performer, but he’s survived by several other major figures — Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, Joe Simon, Sam and Dave are all still with us. They deserve our support today.
All this is by way of philosophical reflection — please don’t throttle me yet. I even like Love Man, which offers more of the phenomenally rich Otis/Booker T. and the M.G.’s/Stax-Volt horn section sound. I freely confess my own greed for new Redding albums and my unceasing awe at the quality of vault tapes Otis left as his musical legacy. So far, it’s like a magic pouch: the more you take away, the more is left inside.
Love Man‘s slow ballads, particularly “I’ll Let Nothing Separate Us” and “Free Me,” will break the hearts of many more chicks. (By the way, listen to Booker T.’s organ comping on “Free Me,” and you’ll know that Al Kooper borrowed more from Memphis than just the horns.) The M.G.’s, of course, acquit themselves with loose imagination and tight style on nearly every cut. As for the “Love Man” himself, the album includes several of his very strongest performances on record.
For “I’m a Changed Man,” Otis dips into his “scat” bag, ya-ya-yaing to beat the band (which keeps right up with him instead). Next, Otis takes the vocal straight, flashing and cutting through “Higher and Higher” like a knife, while Duck Dunn’s bass rolls and tolls like Booker T.’s organ. “You got me cryin’, I’m goin’ blind; I’m goin’ up down, down up, losin’ weight by the pound,” pleads Otis in “Your Feeling Is Mine.” But his confidence comes back strong in the title tune; Al Jackson’s drums explode into action, and Otis lets it all hang out: “I’m six feet one, weight two hundred and ten; long hair and pretty fair skin … Which one o’ you girls want me to hold you? Which one o’ you girls want me to kiss you?”
But the album’s highpoint — and one of the best Memphis soul cuts of all time — is “Direct Me.” No horns this time; just the meshed motion of Otis with tambourine, bass, smooth organ, and countryish guitar. Steve Cropper’s half-choked, bent-string picking stings all around Otis’ happy lament — and makes me want to take back all my earlier grousing, which was aimed at the fans anyway.
Redding was a musical genius. It looks like we’ll have him with us on record for some time to come. But the vault tapes can’t last forever. Pick up on all those other guys. Remember what Otis said: “You gotta, you gotta, try a little tenderness…”