Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The best there ever was

It's hard to believe it, but the greatest voice you've ever heard had to beg for an audition. And he got to Stax Records in Memphis by driving and carrying equipment for another group.

All that changed when he opened his mouth and started singing "These Arms of Mine."

They don't sing like Otis Redding anymore. It just doesn't happen.

That was music, man. You know, the kind that sends chills running up your spine and you play the record over and over and over again, until the stylus breaks or the tape busts or the CD just gives out, depending on what year the calendar says it is. The years pass; the music endures.

Otis was the greatest. Period. Dot. Paragraph.

To suggest otherwise is blasphemous.

Start with "These Arms of Mine." What a song that is. That yearning, churning vocal spills its guts into the night, all but begging you to stop and listen. That man is aching and he don't care who knows it.

Take your pick from there. "Try A Little Tenderness." Nuff said.

"I've Been Loving You Too Long" may be the best one of them all, but don't forget about "Love Man" and "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)" and "Respect." Aretha Franklin? Please. Not even in the same ballpark.

Oh, and that live version of "I've Been Loving You Too Long" at Monterrey Pop. Forget all that hippie stuff. Good as it was, this is music, this is Memphis soul music, Stax Records gold, the best there ever was.

Still doubt it? Run don't walk to iTunes or the record store or wherever, and find Otis's knock-your-socks-off take on "The Tennessee Waltz." You've not heard the song until the Big O gets done with it. In his hands, you understand why that damn waltz was so painful to hear.

PBS aired a fantastic look back at Stax Records tonight on Great Performances. They were all there: Booker T and the MGs, Sam and Dave, Mel and Tim, Isaac Hayes, and a dozen more.

But it's Otis, man. It's Otis.

A plane crash took him from us, too soon, 27 years old, hadn't even released "(Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay" yet. There's a statue to this great man in Dewayne Lawson's town, Macon, Ga.

PDL, Drew and I stood there awhile a couple of months ago, paying our R-E-S-P-E-C-T. It was sacred, honest, something you do 'cause you don't have a choice.

Otis sang from somewhere deep inside, throwing it all out there for the world to hear. It was magical and it was spiritual and it was a lot of things I don't understand.

You can tell me about James Brown and Sam Cooke and Clarence Carter and a bunch of others. I'll nod, tap my foot, bob my head back and forth, diggin' their sounds.

But it ain't Otis. Not even close, man. Not even close.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank god I was able to read this post. I feel like an alien onboard a planet devoid of any musical taste, when it's so abundantly clear that he was the best. Watch the full Monterey Pop "Otis at Monterey!" film and tell me otherwise. Not that you would. Bravo on the blog, brother.

1:51 AM  

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