Modern R&B Beware

A hit abroad but relatively unknown at home. That describes Cheap Trick who I wrote about here recently and also, believe it or not, Otis Redding. He was a big hit in the U.K. and even it seems in Paris before he hit at home with his final single, “(Sittin’ on the) “Dock of the Bay.”

Now a new disc which gathers his 1967 shows in London and Paris confirms, if only from the amount of requests being shouted out from the crowd during the Paris show, that he was well known there before his “Dock of the Bay.”

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to have spoken with the remaining Stax Volt guys, Duck Dunn, Booker T. and Cropper, a number of times and inevitably the conversation turns to the Big O, who for my money, is THE finest soul singer of them all.

Muscle Shoals veteran Dan Penn once told me a great tale of being asked to sing and record a demo of a new Redding tune—for the life of me I can’t remember which one—right in front of Redding who’d just hopped off his tour bus. Penn was a little threatened to say the least. It may be his tragic early death that makes it seem that way, but the guy seemed to have had something special as a performer and as a person. He had that glow, that unmistakable something that the truly gifted and perhaps the truly doomed often have without even trying.

After a crazy quilt of releases that has often seemed to have no rhyme or reason, Concord Records has released a winner if there ever was, the single disc Otis Redding Live in London & Paris. While all of this has been released before, having it in one package is convenient and the remixed and remastered sound by Stephen Hart and Joe Tarantino is the best this material has ever sounded. There are a few odd moments where the source material was either missing or the “tape snippets” that are mentioned in the liner notes were added in to the final mixes. But for the first time you can clearly hear the rooms, the Finsbury Park Astoria in London (better known as the Rainbow) and the Olympia Theatre in Paris. The set in Paris is also longer (supposedly due to the lack of a curfew) and includes a pair of knockout original ballads, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” and Redding’s most unforgettable original, “These Arms of Mine.”

Pretty much everything here is taken at a breakneck pace. Much faster than on the studio albums. And Otis works up a sweat almost from the first note of each show. He peppers the tunes with, “Lord, have mercy.” His growled aside of “Hip Shakin’ Mama” on “I Can’t Turn You Loose” in the Paris show is pretty wonderful. But the best moment comes in one unguarded aside between “Respect,” the first tune of the Paris set, and the second tune, “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” when a panting Redding exhales, “It’s a hard way to make a living.”

Alan in Victoria's picture

Roy is the Big O.