Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Otis Redding - Shake

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Truer words were never spoken...
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Let me begin this entry by stating that in my opinion (give that as much weight as you deem necessary), there was no better soul singer than Otis Redding. This is the kind of statement that is guaranteed to start arguments, especially among those folks who would consider themselves “soul” fans. Fortunately for all of us, all I want to do is call Otis “the best”. Were I to do something foolish, like say call him the first (which would be nutty), the shiznit would hit the fan, all hell would break loose, fists (and record guides) would fly, eyeglasses broken, feelings hurt…you know how it is. Anyway… Why do I think Otis was the best? Why would I place him above folks like Solomon Burke, James Carr, Wilson Pickett etc. First of all, in the purely subjective sense, I like his overall catalog better than I like those of the singers I listed (and lots more I didn’t list), even though I love every one of those singers. His music just hits me where I live. In many ways, the voice of Otis Redding defines “soul” for me. His singing embodies the intersection of the sacred and the profane that is at the very root of soul music. It’s as if he started singing and a door was kicked open letting the sounds of the street directly into the amen corner. Redding was alternately a crooner, gospel shouter, rock’n’roller and funky bluesman. It’s as if someone took Sam Cooke, Little Richard and Muddy Waters and tossed them into a blender, added dashes of Tabasco, Georgia pinesap and nitroglycerin and set the whole mess on frappe. The end result is an entirely new sound, where even though you know the bits and pieces are there, the influences have become so enmeshed, the cross pollination so thorough, that the final product transcends it’s sources completely. The voice of Otis Redding, standing on it’s own, was a remarkable thing. It was a raucous instrument, full of potholes and jagged edges, yet possessing so much power and drive that the imperfections disappear in a blur – and – despite that awesome power, capable of a tenderness saturated in tears. Listen to a performance like ‘Try A Little Tenderness’, where in the course of five minutes, Redding takes the tune from a touching ballad to one of the greatest balls-out soul rave ups of all time, sounding as convincing in the first minute as the last. All of this in addition to the fact that thanks to documentary film we can remember today that Redding was a dynamic and captivating stage performer. Redding’s set at the Monterey Pop Festival is a chance to see a performer who seems as if he’s about to leap through the screen. The 1966 LP ‘Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul’ may be his most solid, pre-death LP (which is to say that there was some great work released posthumously). Featuring his original version of ‘Respect’, classic takes on ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ and ‘Satisfaction’, and no less than three Sam Cooke covers, the LP is Otis at his best. There are ballads, strong soul moments, inspired covers and all of it backed by the Stax/Volt house band (if ever there was a perfect complement to the voice of Otis Redding it was the sound of Steve Cropper’s guitar). I chose to blog ‘Shake’ – one of the three Cooke covers – not only because it’s a great soul dancer, and ratchets up the energy of the original – but also because it provided the template for the even more energetic cover by the Small Faces (passing the soul on to yet another iteration…). The rhythm section chugs along powerfully, with the horn section breaking in and punctuating Redding’s vocal. In the verses Otis is riding along with the band, but he breaks out during the chorus, so much so he seems like he’s straining against the rhythmic and lyrical constraints of the song. He emits a series of small bursts, one after another, at one point abandoning words and almost speaking in tongues. At the end of the bridge he shouts – “You got to do the thing with SOUL!!’ and as he sings/shouts the word “soul” his voice starts to break. It’s almost like a preacher being overtaken by the spirit and falling to his knees, eyes closed, fists clenched, sweat running from his forehead (see also Brown, James…). The tune goes out with almost as much energy as it starts with, the horns taking a cue from ‘I Can’t Turn You Loose’ and starting to pick up speed as the song fades out. The LP of ‘Otis Blue’ came with a sticker on the cover that stated ‘This LP Contains Satisfaction’. Truer words were never spoken.

11 Comments:

Blogger EB said...

You're in safe territory with me. Mr. Redding was the best. One mark of his greatness is how a song like Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song) would have sounded positively dopey done by anybody else. But in his hands...

7/05/2005 02:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Les Dale said...

Don't forget the live (45) version either.

7/05/2005 03:44:00 PM  
Blogger LondonLee said...

I don't think there is such a thing as the Best Soul Singer Ever but Otis would be up there just for way he sings the opening line of 'These Arms of Mine' ("These... arms... of... miiiiiiiinnnneeee") - blows me away every time.

He's up there but I think Al Green keeps him off the top spot (even though I just said there isn't one).

7/05/2005 05:47:00 PM  
Blogger LondonLee said...

And ditto what Les said, the live version of 'Shake' is blazing.

7/05/2005 05:48:00 PM  
Blogger Dan Phillips said...

Y'all are preachin' to the choir for this old (literally) Memphis boy with all the names you mention. But Otis truly was a force of nature who departed the planet in the ascendancy of his career and his talents. That he made such a lasting mark in so short a time lends even more weight to your valuable, insightful opinion, Larry. Still, I think your saying "there was no better soul singer than Otis Redding" is different (more inclusive) than saying he was "the best", which sets him apart from the others mentioned. Which do you really mean it to be? Just wondering.

7/05/2005 09:45:00 PM  
Blogger Larry Grogan said...

Dan
I guess what I meant to say was that for me, Otis was "best". I think arguments could be made to that effect in general terms, but in the end it would be a lot of wasted words since "soul" is in it's essence such a personal thing (kind of an "I can't tell you what it is but I know it when I hear it" thing). No soul singer touches me the way Otis does. I dig the Wicked Pickett for the super hard stuff, James Carr for the deep Southern ballads, Rev Green for the love thing and so many other great singers who only made it to wax for a song or two. But picking up an LP like "Otis Blue", and hearing the man lay down storming dancers, heart-wrenching ballads, mid-tempo numbers and blues, all with the same kind of beauty and power just blows me away, and sets Otis on a level all his own.
Larry

7/06/2005 08:40:00 AM  
Blogger Todd Lucas said...

Interesting that you'd post this song, as I've recently snagged a couple of garagey versions of "Shake" on 45, one by The British Walkers and the other by The Pete Klint Quintet.

7/06/2005 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Grogan said...

Todd
I have that British Walkers 45 (which may or may not feature Roy Buchanan on guitar) and have heard the Pete Klint. Great stuff.
Larry

PS I just added you to the Blogroll...

7/06/2005 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger Todd Lucas said...

Larry, thanks for adding my blog. For whatever reason, the template I chose doesn't have a built in link section, so I'm gonna have to figure out how to add one on my own. Sheesh, that almost sounds like actual work.

7/06/2005 03:26:00 PM  
Anonymous your brother said...

Yes, I concur...Otis is the best

7/06/2005 10:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Lindsay said...

There are few words that are able to capture the kind of singer Otis was, simply "the best" does it for me. The first time I heard his songs I could feel it in my heart. I love this man and I respect the passion he had in his songs, life and soul.

9/19/2005 10:04:00 PM  

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