Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: The Worthy and Unworthy, from High Taste to Low

Prince Josef Lobkowitz and Some Number One Songs That Will Live in Infamy!

We have three items on our calendar-driven agenda today, which also happens to be the 79th anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. One of these items is a birth; one of them is a recording session; and one of them notes some songs that will live in infamy! We begin with the recording session. 

Otis Ray Redding, Jr.
Otis Ray Redding, Jr. (1941-1967)

On December 7, 1967 – 53 years ago today – Otis Ray Redding, Jr. (1941-1967) entered the recording studio of Stax Records in Memphis Tennessee and recorded (Sittin’ On) The Dock of The Bay. Redding had written the first verse of the song while staying on a houseboat at Waldo Point, in the San Francisco Bay Area town of Sausalito (which I am presently looking at as I write this from across the Bay in Oakland). 

Waldo Point houseboats
Waldo Point houseboats, bottom center; Sausalito, center; San Francisco, top; the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, upper left

The song went on to become his greatest hit, something – tragically – the 26-year-old Redding never lived to see; he was killed in an airplane crash just three days after the recording date, on December 10, 1967. Redding’s whistling at the conclusion of the song, just before the fade out, is what musicians call a “slug”: filler, to be replaced with words at a later session. That session never took place, and the whistling stayed. Knowing Redding’s tragic fate (he left a wife and four children behind), that whistling tugs at my heart.

It’s a wonderful song; I bought the 45-rpm when I was 13 years-old. To this day I cannot listen to it without getting choked up from all the memories and feelings it evokes. Here’s a listen to the recording:

Redding was no one-hit wonder; Aretha Franklin’s signature cover of his 1965 song Respect remains one of the classics of soul… continue reading, only on Patreon!

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