Otis Redding was one of the greatest performers of the twentieth century, wearing the well-deserved “King of Soul” crown during his short but spectacular career. That career was tragically ended with his untimely demise in December of 1967 at the age of twenty-six in a plane crash.
Redding was not only a brilliant and dynamic singer, he wrote or co-wrote over 100 songs, including “Love Man” (the song Johnny Castle is dancing to with Penny when Baby first lays eyes on him), “Respect”, one of Aretha Franklin’s greatest hits, and Redding’s biggest success, “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”, which ironically charted number one in the United States after his death.
Always an audience favorite for his dynamic presence and powerful voice, Redding performed in Europe in March of 1967 as part of the Stax/Volt tour of the continent. Out of that came the classic vinyl album, “Otis Redding: Live in Europe”. I purchased this album when it was released and it is still one of my most prized possessions. Every track is a gem, but my favorites are “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (written by Redding and Jerry Butler) and “Try A Little Tenderness”, written in 1933 by Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly and Harry M. Woods and originally recorded by Bing Crosby. Suffice it to say that Otis Redding gave it an interpretation surely very different from Der Bingle’s.
What thrills me about this track is not just Redding’s performance, which is soulful, sweet, and dynamic as it builds, but the audience’s response to it. Their very vocal and appreciative (but non-interfering) feedback throughout the song is for me, the most powerful and moving audience reaction I’ve ever heard. The collective emotional swell peaks first at 4:00, rises at 4:32, and culminates in a soul-satisfying thunderous roar at 4:51. That European audience knew greatness when they saw and heard it, and were not afraid to let the performer they adored know it.