The Otis Redding Anthology
Several years ago there was a book titled The Death of Rhythm and Blues. It spoke of the demise of this wonderful art form that used to come to us through our AM radios. In the ’50s and ’60s, it would emanate from stations such as Nashville’s WLAC, bouncing off the ionosphere and landing all over the Southeast. Its reach even extended into Jamaica, where its hand pumped the bellows and stoked the fire in the soul of a young Bob Marley, as well as countless other future musicians in this country.
If you want a view of R&B in its prime of life, Otis Redding’s work is as good a perspective as can be found. He epitomizes all that was right with R&B. He was a James Brown you could understand, a cooler Wilson Pickett, a less outrageous Little Richard, and a grittier Sam Cooke. In addition to all that, he got along with everybody. No other soul artist of the ’60s better exemplified how music could bring people together. When Donald “Duck” Dunn joined his backing band, Booker T & the MG’s, the balance of black and white musicians became exactly equal. It is only fitting that his posthumous breakthrough hit, “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” became the theme song for the Summer of Love. His closing performance at the Monterey Pop Festival was incredible. The man also gave what might be the definitive live R&B performance of all time. His performance on Ready, Steady, Go in England left onlooker Eric Burdon slack-jawed and intimidated. He burned white-hot and never failed to satisfy.
Most of the songs he and Steve Cropper penned together were really about Otis, but he never got full of himself, nor did he question whether he should do them. He had a magical ability to let his soul speak without coming off as pretentious. When he sang “Love Man” or “Hard to Handle,” it was more like he mirrored what the audience was thinking. His duets with Carla Thomas have such a natural feel and sexual tension that even their covers, such as Lowell Fulsom’s “Tramp,” often outshine the originals.
This collection is a distilled version of the earlier box set. If you don’t want to lay out $60 for the full box, this is the best starting point you’ll find. It does have a few notable omissions, such as the Otis/Carla Thomas version of “When Something is Wrong With My Baby,” but it does weigh in with 50 songs of some of the finest R&B you’ll ever hear, and the individual albums are readily available to fill in any holes you might find. Rhino Records, 10635 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025; http://www.rhino.com