Friday, July 19, 2013


One of the great accidental discovery stories in rock and soul, Redding had actually shown up at Stax Records in 1962 as the driver for wanna-be signee Johnny Jenkins.  With time left on the session, Redding was allowed to perform a couple, and it was the second, his composition These Arms Of Mine, that blew away the Stax crew, including guitarist Steve Cropper.  That song became his first hit, and one of the great voices and writers in soul was launched.

His time was remarkably short, ended with his tragic plane crash in 1967, at the pinnacle of his success.  Redding's performance at the Monteray Pop Festival had opening the door to a huge white audience, and his newly-written song with Cropper, (Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay had hit written all over it.  Sadly, it went to number one in the wake of this death.  But as this stunning three-disc set shows, there was already a rich legacy recorded in just those five years.

Luckily, it was a time when 45's still ruled, and Redding and Stax stuck them out like clockwork every two months.  Then there were the duets with his female foil, Stax soul sister #1, Carla Thomas.  Add in a Christmas single and posthumous releases, and you get 70 cuts here, almost all (even the b-sides) tremendous tracks.  This is the way to hear them too, the a-side to the b-side, in their order of release, a career revealed over four hours.

The hits remain milestones in soul, including his original of Respect (Aretha arguably bettered it, but she's about the only person who could), I Can't Turn You Loose, Hard To Handle (no, it's not a Black Crowes song), Tramp with Thomas, and his brilliant interpretation of the Stones' Satisfaction.  But you could just get a best-of for those, the joy here is the complete b-sides collection.  Just One More Day, found on the flip of I Can't Turn You Loose, is Otis at his pleading best, the desperation in his voice almost unbearable.  The b-sides are consistently of high quality, Redding pouring it all into every performance, with the lone exception a very early and regrettable reworking of Mary Had A Little Lamb.

Then there are the rarer a-sides, non-hits that arrived in the flurry of releases.  A live version of Papa's Got A Brand New Bag shows how amazing he was on stage, and equals James Brown's original.  Even as the vault ran dry in Stax's desperation to keep the hits coming after his death, Redding still delivered on a cover of The Temptations' My Girl, his last official single.

The only quibble here is the lack of a booklet, with virtually no notes at all in the box.  However, it's attractive packaging features reproductions of every 45 label, a-side and b-side, so just head to the 'net for any info you need.  This is a feast for the ears.

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