Otis Redding at the Monterey Pop Festival
“Listen – Otis Redding at the Monterey Pop Festival June 17th, 1967 – MP3″
Shake – Respect – I’ve Been Loving You Too Long – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – Try a Little Tenderness
I hope the end of the week – as it nears – finds you well.
The “selection” I bring you today is something a little different than I ordinarily offer in this space, in that it is composed of an entire LP side, which is itself an entire live set* by one of the greatest soul artists of all time, the mighty Otis Redding.
I’ve mentioned several times in this space that my ‘Road to Damascus’ moment as a fan of soul music was the day I flipped over the Jimi Hendrix Experience ‘Live at Monterey’ LP and played the album side I have posted today.
That day – sometime around 1976 or ’77 – was a landmark in my musical growth because although I was aware of soul and funk music in as much as its existence was reflected in the playlists of Top 40 radio of the early 70s, I had never been an active consumer thereof, i.e. I let the soul come to me, but never went looking for it.
It’s likely that I wasn’t paying close attention to the album, at least not at first, as I didn’t have much of an idea who Otis Redding was, outside of ‘Dock of the Bay’. It was that day, as the sounds of one of the greatest live sets ever recorded by any artist poured from my Montgomery Ward console stereo (next to my bed, the biggest piece of furniture in my small room), that a fundamental part of how my mind processed music – in as much as it processed the effects of sound along with my heart and soul – was changed forever.
I can’t remember the first time I actually saw ‘Monterey Pop’ on TV, though it was probably either on the Late Show or on the local PBS station, but when I did it quickly became my favorite musical documentary, in large part because of the inclusion of an excerpt from this very set.
It wasn’t until last year, when my lovely wife bought me the Criterion Collection issue of ‘Monterey Pop’ – which included an entire disc of previously unissued performances, as well as the two mini-documentaries ‘Jimi Plays Monterey!’ and ‘Shake! Otis at Monterey’ that I finally saw the film of Redding’s entire set from June 17th, 1967.
It was the final set, of the second night of the Monterey Pop Festival, and as the story goes, the festival had gone past the agreed upon curfew by the time Otis reached the stage.
Backed by Booker T & the MGs (who had just played a short set of their own), as well as the Mar-Keys (actually the Memphis Horns with the addition of Floyd Newman), and following an introduction by Tommy Smothers, Otis stormed the stage and ripped into Sam Cooke’s ‘Shake’. Despite a solid, day-long line up of rock, pop and jazz acts, at that late hour the crowd could not have possibly been prepared for the power that Redding brought onto the stage.
By the time Otis finished the tune he was gasping for breath, as he introduced his own ‘Respect’ – with a bit of understatement – as ‘…a song that a girl took away from me.’ He takes the tune at a brisk pace with pounding support from the band.
As he finishes ‘Respect’ he takes a moment to rap to what he refers to as ‘The Love Crowd’, before he launches into one of the single greatest soul performances ever recorded.
Two years before Monterey, Redding and Jerry Butler sat down in a Buffalo, NY hotel room and composed what would become (later that year) one of Redding’s biggest hits, ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’. Redding’s reading of the tune is an absolute masterpiece of dynamics, building and release of tension and pure soul. It’s not hard to deduce from his demeanor that by this point in the set that Otis knew that he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. He delivers his greatest song as a high-wire act balancing tasteful restraint with roof-raising soul pleading.
Whenever I listen to this (a performance that never fails to bring a tear to my eye) I wonder if Otis and Butler knew when they were writing this song how perfect a showstopper it would become. The verses open with those classic, slow-dance, R&B guitar triplets, moving to an explosion each time the second part of the verse begins.
There’s a version of ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ on the ‘Otis Redding Live In Europe’ LP where, if you listen very closely, you can hear Redding – as an aside, almost completely off mike – say ‘Oh my God!’ just before he launches into the line ‘There were times… It’s almost as if he had to muster every bit of power in his voice to deliver the line, rocketing the level of emotion in the performance to a point that few performers could ever dream of approaching and the truly amazing thing is that he’s able to do it over, and over again until the final section of the song where he’s rolling out the
‘GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY’s
and the ‘I CAN’T STOP NOW’s
and ‘I’M DOWN ON MY KNEES’
and ‘I LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY HEART’
and the band is vamping under him with the horns growing in intensity, and before you know it – because you almost expect, or at least wish that he would go on all night – the song is over and the band tears into ‘Satisfaction’, and the audience, still dizzy from the previous number rides along with them until Otis takes the tempo down, and you can hear the audience clapping along, and then the band picks up speed again almost crashing at the end of the song.
It’s at this point that Otis Redding proves once and for all (as if there were any doubts left) how much of a master performer he was. Taking a song written and first performed in 1932, Redding builds ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ into a soulful tour de force. The tempo of the tune building almost imperceptibly at first, with the band laying down the sparest of backings, but before you know it the whole shebang is bearing down like a freight train and Otis is wailing about
‘GOTTA GOTTA GOTTA NOW NOW NOW TENDERNESS A LITTLE TENDERNESS YEAH YEAH TENDERNESS YOU GOTTA GOTTA TENDERNESS!!!’
and Steve Cropper is weaving in and out of the mix and you can sense Otis whipping the audience around like a sweaty handkerchief while he loses himself in the ecstasy of the performance.
This is true greatness, on a level that very, very few performers, in any kind of music were ever able to achieve, and as the few remaining documents will attest to, it was greatness that Otis Redding was able to deliver on a regular basis.
The Monterey Pop Festival was filled with monumental, career making performances, but no one, not Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Who, NO ONE, came within 100 miles of delivering the way Otis Redding delivered that night.
He wouldn’t have many opportunities to do it again, because a few days short of six months later, Otis Redding was dead.
I hope you dig the sounds.
Have a great weekend.
*Believe it or not, this entire – legendary – set lasts less that 20 minutes!
PS Check out Iron Leg for some garage pop. PSS Stop by Friday night at the World Famous Asbury Lanes for the latest installment of the Asbury Park 45 Sessions, with special guest selector Dave Withers!