THE SATURDAY MORNING SONG CHRONICLES - PAGE 27

-- Paul B Allen III: November 9, 2019

OTIS REDDING - MY INTRODUCTION TO HIS MUSIC

Lefty Gomez of the 1930s Yankees was one of the greatest pitchers of all time, but, according to The Society for American Baseball Research, “Once after an inning in which three hard-hit balls were run down and caught by his outfielders, he [Lefty Gomez] said, ‘I’d rather be lucky than good.’” 

Back before the days of digital music, before there were mobile phones or MP3 players (or MP3s), before Spotify or Pandora or pcs or Apples (except for Red Delicious, of which I was particularly fond), there were very few ways to hear or discover new music. 

There were variety TV shows, like The Ed Sullivan Show, and there were “mom and pop” record shops (like A&A Records in Omaha, Nebraska, owned by my grandparents), where the sales attendant (me, for the summer of 1971) would make recommendations based on the new music received from distributors that the general public had not yet heard. 

However, the way most of us heard new music was by listening to the brick and mortar radio stations that dotted the landscape of our nation. 

Then, people loved their TVs, but by and large, listened to their music on radios, and the radio stations were providing great new music every day, free of charge. No monthly subscriptions required. All you had to do was turn on your radio, tune in to your local radio station and voila! Your favorite song was playing or probably would be within that hour, and you listened closely so you wouldn’t miss it when the DJ let it spin. Back then, if you wanted to hear a song “on-demand” you had to get to a record shop, buy the record, bring it home and play it on your stereo. That was as "on-demand" as you could get in those days. 

Radio stations were under the mistaken belief that they could stem the tide of people away from watching so much TV. At one time, radio had been the undisputed king of entertainment, but that was no longer the case. Still, in a valiant effort to gain new listeners and hang onto them, radio stations would run little contests. You know, the kind that would tell you to “Be caller number thirteen, and answer our question correctly, and you will win a…” 

Our most local radio station was called KMEN – 129 in San Bernardino, California. And one day while I was listening, they ran a contest. It was 1965, and I was too excited for words. I was "caller number thirteen," and now for the first time in my life, I was hearing my own voice on the radio! (I had no idea at the time that this foreshadowed things to come.)

So, the DJ says, “Ok, once again, our question is what famous musician was born in Liverpool, England?” I blurted out “The Beatles!” The DJ could hear I was a young kid, so he cut me some slack. He said, “You are so close, but we are asking about one particular artist, not a group.” I went blank. He continued to try to help me. “You have the right group, and our artist is a member of that group, so pick one of them.” Of the Beatles, Paul McCartney was my favorite, and so that was my answer. 

“You got it!” the DJ said. “You can come down to our station at any time in the next week and pick up your prize.” Man, I was jumping out of my skin! I couldn’t wait until my mom or dad could drive me over to KMEN. (I told you, I was young!) 

My mother drove me to the station, and I walked in, thinking I was going to pick whatever album I wanted to out of their collection. I had high hopes of getting something from The Temptations, my favorite group at the time. But that was not to be. 

They said to me, “You can have an album by this artist or by that artist, it’s your choice.” 

When I came back to the car, my mom could see I had lost all of my enthusiasm. She asked, “What happened?” I could see her maternal instincts kicking in, and she was about to get angry. If anyone had wronged her son in that radio station, they were about to pay – big time. 

“They gypped me.” (We were not as politically correct in the sixties as we should have been.) I continued, “They gave me a choice between two albums THEY picked. I never heard of either one of these people, but I chose this one.” I showed her the album. “You ever heard of this guy?" She glanced at the album and she looked disappointed too. “Otis Redding? Nope,” she answered. 

When we got back home, I put the album on the stereo and began to listen. My eyebrows raised, my mouth dropped open, and all I could say was, "Wow!"  

The name of the album was Otis Blue / Otis Redding Sings Soul, and it was predominately an album of “cover” songs, songs other artists had already done, But no one had ever heard them interpreted as Otis was doing here on this album. He truly made each song his own. I was stunned. 

That album contained many great songs, including ones that would become hallmarks in Otis’s career, like “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)”, “Shake” “Satisfaction”, and a little ditty called “Respect.” And even though all of these songs became classics again with Otis singing them, the one I liked the most and started truly singing myself, was Otis’s version of the Sam Cooke song, “A Change Is Gonna Come.” And, not to sound sacrilegious, but I liked Otis’s version better. It was so raw you could feel his emotions pummeling you, and that moved me mightily. His voice was laced with lament, and was so mournful you would have sworn he was at the funeral of his most beloved friend. It deeply impacted me, and I couldn’t stop singing that song, even as a child.  

Was I alone in my newfound believe that I had actually won a great album from K-MEN? Not by a long shot. Here is what Wikipedia says about Otis Blue / Otis Redding Sings Soul

"The album was also ranked 74 on the 2003 Rolling Stone magazine's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time" list… It also ranked 92 on Time magazine's list of the "All-Time 100 Greatest Albums"… and [it was]included in Q magazine's "Best Soul Albums of All-Time" list… The album appeared in [the book] 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. According to Acclaimed Music, Otis Blue is the 68th most frequently ranked record on critics' all-time lists.” 

When I won the contest on KMEN-129, it was because I guessed correctly three times. The Beatles – Paul McCartney – and Otis Redding. 

I’m with you, Lefty. I’d rather be lucky than good. 

Just 24 months after Otis sang the mournful “Change Is Gonna Come” he was killed in an airplane crash at the tender age of 26 years.

All of the following videos of Otis Redding are rare, but one of them is the rarest I have ever heard. It is Otis Redding's "First Take" in the studio, singing what was destined to become his biggest hit song ever, "Sitting On The Dock of the Bay," with all the mistakes and miracles that we vocalists usually make in the studio on our first attempt to get our songs recorded for posterity. It's an incredible video find! Enjoy!

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