Friday, February 8, 2013

Otis Redding -- "Try a Little Tenderness" (1966)

But it's all so easy
All you gotta do is
Try a little tenderness

Unfortunately, it's not really all that easy.  But when Otis Redding sings these lines, you believe that it is.

Between 1965 and 1967, Otis Redding released five studio albums, each of which made it to the top five on the U.S. R&B charts and also did well on the U.S. and UK pop charts.  His hit singles included "I've Been Lovin' You Too Long," "Respect," "I Can't Turn You Loose," "Satisfaction," and "Try a Little Tenderness."  

Redding was 26 years old and at the height of his popularity when the twin-engine airplane carrying him and his backup musicians to a gig in Madison, Wisconsin, crashed into Lake Morona on December 10, 1967.  

Redding and his Beechcraft Model 18
Redding had recently purchased the Beechcraft Model 18 from James Brown.

"(Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay" was released a month later and became Redding's only number one single on the Billboard "Hot 100" chart and the first posthumous number-one single.  

Otis Redding was one of the great artists who recorded for the Memphis-based Stax Records.  (Redding actually recorded for Volt Records, which was a Stax subsidiary.)  The label's other artists included Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes, Sam and Dave, Carla Thomas, and Booker T. & the M.G.'s.  

Otis in performance
Stax was the funky Southern cousin of Detroit's Motown label.  Motown performers were cool, calm and collected -- they rarely broke a sweat.  Stax artists were the hardest-working men and women in show biz, and they sweated plenty.  Both labels put out amazing pop music, but I have to give the nod to Memphis over Detroit when it comes to soul music.  

I don't see how you can rank any soul/R&B singer ahead of Otis Ray Redding, Jr. -- a/k/a/ "The King of Soul" and "The Big O."  He doesn't have a particularly impressive voice -- he doesn't have much range, and he often sounds a bit hoarse -- but his singing is utterly convincing emotionally.  There's not a bit of artifice in his performance.  

The first verse of this song is as close to being a cappella as is it possible to be -- Otis is accompanied by a few soft guitar chords and just a taste of piano and organ.  That's our old friend Booker T. Jones of Booker T. & the M.G.'s on our old friend the Hammond B-3.

Booker T. and his Hammond B-3.
On the next verse, drummer Al Jackson, Jr., contributes a metronome-like rhythm track, but the guitar-piano-organ accompaniment remains subtle and understated, giving Otis plenty of room to sing naturally -- he doesn't have to shout to make himself heard.

Things start to intensify musically in the third verse, and just as that verse transitions into an extended coda, the horn section kicks loose and Otis hits the afterburner.  Buckle your seat belts, boys and girls -- you're in for a wild ride.   

"Try a Little Tenderness" was initially recorded in 1932 by the Ray Noble Orchestra.  Here's their version of the song -- it's not bad, but it is a completely different song than the one Otis recorded.  (You may not recognize it at first, but you will eventually.)

Compare that to this live performance of the song by Otis:

Here's the album version of Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness":

Click here to buy the song from Amazon:

1 comment:

  1. One of the historic sites I visited when in Memphis in 2011 was the Stax-Volt building. Unlike Sun Studio, which is the same brick building that was there when Elvis dropped in almost 60 years ago, today's Stax studio is a re-creation, rather like some of the California Missions that had deteriorated into barely-recognizable ruins in the mid-19th Century and had to be rebuilt from old drawings and early photos. After the Stax record co. went tennies-up in the early 70's, the building became more and more decrepit and was finally demolished. After much fund-raising, the current replica was constructed. One of the first things many visitors do is watch a short video in a viewing area. When I was there (on a weekday), an African-American family and I were the only ones seeing the video. After the show, we paused in front of an Isaac Hayes display. I pointed to it and told my fellow visitors, "Back when I was first going out with the woman who is now my wife, we were sitting around at her house, and she put an Isaac Hayes album on the stereo. After listening to a few songs, I thought "Whoa! This lady is Serious!" And they just cracked up, like that was the coolest thing they'd heard all day. Richard Pryor would have liked that kind of reaction.