Little Bitty Brother: Otis Redding, 1965

Ranked #74 in Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 greatest albums of all time, Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul is considered a masterpiece by the soul singer Otis Redding. The album — famed for having been cut in a span of 24 hours between July 9 and July 10 of 1965 — contains original hits like Respect, I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, and Ole Man Trouble, but also covers of hits by the Temptations as well as Sam Cooke, including the iconic A Change is Gonna Come (1963).

On the night of December 11, 1964, Sam Cooke passed in a tragic shooting in a Los Angeles hotel under (still) unresolved circumstances that included a prostitute and a gunman. A few years prior, Redding had the chance to meet Cooke at the Washington D.C. airport, where Cooke simply told him, “Be natural, be you.”  Having idolized Cooke for many years, Redding would embrace these words like his personal mantra. According to his wife Zelma, “The day that Otis heard that Sam Cooke got killed…when I looked into his eyes it was just devastating because Sam Cooke was one of his idols. He loved Sam Cooke.”**

Here, Otis pays tribute to his idol in his own gritty and raw style, stripped of the original richness of a string orchestra and skinned down to the chords and untreated pleading:

Redding’s rendition almost feels like a dirge or a paean to his idol, adding to the original his own inflections and passion to elevate the legacy of the founder of soul.

Those familiar with Sam Cooke’s live performances, however, would understand that such a coarse and passionate sound was not something Redding invented out of thin air. Cooke’s own records had a refinement and an urbanity that belied the grit of his live shows:


**Ribowsky, Dreams to Remember…, (c) 2015, p. 113


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