I don’t like to play the “favorite” game, it’s so difficult to choose one thing to be my favorite. However, when people ask who my favorite musical artist is, the first response seems to come quite easily: Otis Redding. (I have such eclectic taste in music, I usually ramble off an extensive list of artists following Otis. You know, because I have trouble picking just one.) Otis Redding does something for . . . to me. I can’t quite explain it fully, but here’s an attempt.
Anyone who has read this blog can clearly tell vinyls are a big part of my love of nostalgia, see header photo, and I have used my records as “preparation soundtracks” for (hopefully) edible posts. I’ve been somewhat hesitant to write solely about vinyls, mostly because I have so many I want to feature and it’s hard to choose where to start. Plus, I want to, in fact, write about most of them. (And plan to as I go along.) The choice was made much easier with the more recent discovery of two records at a local record store. (I’ve had a 45 of “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag/Direct Me” by Otis for a while, but some how skewed my ability of being satisfied with owning an actual, full record of his.) The first record I found of his (the same day I found the two) was completely out of my price range. I was disheartened and a bit glum leaving that record store, having seen my first Otis vinyl in person, able to place my hands on it yet being forced to leave it behind while it taunted me with its exuberant price tag. The next record store (which was a heavenly delight even if it hadn’t had Otis) re-energized my spirits. In fact, I placed my hands on Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul and Pain In My Heart and instantly had heart palpitations, tears took up residence in the corners of my eyes, and of course, I swooned. I thought I was dreaming. . .perhaps the victim of a practical joke, but no. They were real. And they were mine.
As I continued to browse through the rest of the store, I cradled them to my chest, glancing at them occasionally to reassure myself that I hadn’t hallucinated them. When I returned home and the needle finally touched down, only then did it cement the fact: I now OWNED two Otis Redding vinyls and they sounded divine. (As I write I actually have several more coming my way, Love Man, Live In Europe, The Dock Of The Bay. Weeee!)
It seems there’s often discussion and comparison of Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. I guess I get it, everyone always wants to quantify and “award” a “best” or “better than,” as if it’s not entirely subjective to each person. I love Sam Cooke. He had a style all his own and I often let Sam serenade me on the record player. (Still waiting for someone to dance with in the kitchen.) However, I, personally, think of Sam Cooke as more polished, a bit more subdued. He’s on the well-lit stage, the audience is all sitting in their seats swaying along to the music. Otis is more rough around the edges. He’s the one in that dark bar with smoke stagnant in the air. People are leaning against the bar, up dancing, and Otis has sweat on his forehead. To me, that seems to be the comparison. I love that smooth voice of Cooke’s and he was an amazing songwriter (even Otis sang some of his songs), but Otis reaches into my gut, he swirls into those places around my heart, and solidifies every feeling I have.
“These Arms Of Mine” (probably my favorite song of his, which he also wrote. . .there I go with favorites again) is a song I fantasize about. Is there anyone out there who would dance with me to it, and feel those lyrics about me? It makes me hazy-eyed just hearing that song. Then he comes and hits me with “Love Man,” and he urges me to break loose and dance. He then conjures up more swooning with “That’s How Strong My Love Is.” “Treat Her Right” gives good advice and his “ha ha ha ha” causes a tremble in my bones. “Ole Man Trouble” sinks into my very core and is a crutch when times are tough. And have you heard his duets with Carla Thomas? I could probably write a blog post for each of his songs. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an Otis song I didn’t like. (Seriously, just go look up the whole Otis discography. Or to begin, just click on the song links I’ve provided.)
He was a soulful and powerful performer. He wrote some incredible songs. He was a gift to music. Unfortunately, he was taken way too early in life. He was only 26 years old when he died in a plane crash in 1967, and only three days after having recorded “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay,” which would go onto be his only #1 hit. I love the story of how he was supposed to do a rap to fade out the song, but forgot the lyrics, hence, the whistling at the end. And for anyone who doesn’t know, he wrote “Respect.” Yes, THAT “Respect” which was such a huge hit for Aretha Franklin later on. While he did sing covers of other artists’ songs, he always did them with his own spin and that distinctive voice gave them his own style, paying homage to the original artist while bringing that special Otis touch to them.
Many artists and a wide array of music occupies my life, each touching me in a different way and bringing just what I need at just the right time. Otis Redding, though, is the one who claims the largest section of my music soul. The one who, from the moment it reaches my ears, mesmerizes me with that rugged beauty in his voice. The one who tingles at my heart and makes me wish for any excuse to fall in love. The one who never fails to release that knot in my stomach or supply the exhale for held breath. The one who tells me everything’s going to be alright.