DiscoverA History of Rock Music in 500 SongsEpisode 163: “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding
Episode 163: “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding

Episode 163: “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding

Update: 2023-02-27


Episode 163 of A History of Rock Music in Five Hundred Songs looks at “(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay", Stax Records, and the short, tragic, life of Otis Redding. Click the full post to read liner notes, links to more information, and a transcript of the episode.

Patreon backers also have a twenty-three minute bonus episode available, on "Soul Man" by Sam and Dave.

Tilt Araiza has assisted invaluably by doing a first-pass edit, and will hopefully be doing so from now on. Check out Tilt’s irregular podcasts at and


No Mixcloud this week, as there are too many songs by Redding, even if I split into multiple parts.

The main resource I used for the biographical details of Redding was Dreams to Remember: Otis Redding, Stax Records, and the Transformation of Southern Soul by Mark Ribowsky. Ribowsky is usually a very good, reliable, writer, but in this case there are a couple of lapses in editing which make it not a book I can wholeheartedly recommend, but the research on the biographical details of Redding seems to be the best.

Information about Stax comes primarily from two books: Soulsville USA: The Story of Stax by Rob Bowman, and Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion by Robert Gordon.

Country Soul by Charles L Hughes is a great overview of the soul music made in Muscle Shoals, Memphis, and Nashville in the sixties.

There are two Original Album Series box sets which between them contain all the albums Redding released in his life plus his first few posthumous albums, for a low price. Volume 1, volume 2.


This podcast is brought to you by the generosity of my backers on Patreon. Why not join them?


A quick note before I begin -- this episode ends with a description of a plane crash, which some people may find upsetting. There's also a mention of gun violence.

In 2019 the film Summer of Soul came out. If you're unfamiliar with this film, it's a documentary of an event, the Harlem Cultural Festival, which gets called the "Black Woodstock" because it took place in the summer of 1969, overlapping the weekend that Woodstock happened. That event was a series of weekend free concerts in New York, performed by many of the greatest acts in Black music at that time -- people like Stevie Wonder, David Ruffin, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, the Staple Singers, Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone, and the Fifth Dimension.

One thing that that film did was to throw into sharp relief a lot of the performances we've seen over the years by legends of white rock music of the same time. If you watch the film of Woodstock, or the earlier Monterey Pop festival, it's apparent that a lot of the musicians are quite sloppy. This is easy to dismiss as being a product of the situation -- they're playing outdoor venues, with no opportunity to soundcheck, using primitive PA systems, and often without monitors. Anyone would sound a bit sloppy in that situation, right?

That is until you listen to the performances on the Summer of Soul soundtrack. The performers on those shows are playing in the same kind of circumstances, and in the case of Woodstock literally at the same time, so it's a fair comparison, and there really is no comparison.

Whatever you think of the quality of the *music* (and some of my very favourite artists played at Monterey and Woodstock), the *musicianship* is orders of magnitude better at the Harlem Cultural Festival

[Excerpt: Gladys Knight and the Pips “I Heard it Through the Grapevine (live)”]

And of course there's a reason for this. Most of the people who played at those big hippie festivals had not had the same experiences as the Black musicians. The Black players were mostly veterans of the chitlin' circuit, where you had to play multiple shows a day, in front of demanding crowds who wanted their money's worth, and who wanted you to be able to play and also put on a show at the same time. When you're playing for crowds of working people who have spent a significant proportion of their money to go to the show, and on a bill with a dozen other acts who are competing for that audience's attention, you are going to get good or stop working.

The guitar bands at Woodstock and Monterey, though, hadn't had the same kind of pressure. Their audiences were much more forgiving, much more willing to go with the musicians, view themselves as part of a community with them. And they had to play far fewer shows than the chitlin' circuit veterans, so they simply didn't develop the same chops before becoming famous (the best of them did after fame, of course).

And so it's no surprise that while a lot of bands became more famous as a result of the Monterey Pop Festival, only three really became breakout stars in America as a direct result of it. One of those was the Who, who were already the third or fourth biggest band in the UK by that point, either just behind or just ahead of the Kinks, and so the surprise is more that it took them that long to become big in America. But the other two were themselves veterans of the chitlin' circuit.

If you buy the Criterion Collection Blu-Ray of Monterey Pop, you get two extra discs along with the disc with the film of the full festival on it -- the only two performances that were thought worth turning into their own short mini-films. One of them is Jimi Hendrix's performance, and we will talk about that in a future episode. The other is titled Shake! Otis at Monterey:

[Excerpt: Otis Redding, "Shake! (live at Monterey Pop Festival)"]

Otis Redding came from Macon, Georgia, the home town of Little Richard, who became one of his biggest early influences, and like Richard he was torn in his early years between religion and secular music -- though in most other ways he was very different from Richard, and in particular he came from a much more supportive family. While his father, Otis senior, was a deacon in the church, and didn't approve much of blues, R&B, or jazz music or listen to it himself, he didn't prevent his son from listening to it, so young Otis grew up listening to records by Richard -- of whom he later said "If it hadn't been for Little Richard I would not be here... Richard has soul too. My present music has a lot of him in it" -- and another favourite, Clyde McPhatter:

[Excerpt: Billy Ward and the Dominoes, "Have Mercy Baby"]

Indeed, it's unclear exactly how much Otis senior *did* disapprove of those supposedly-sinful kinds of music. The biography I used as a source for this, and which says that Otis senior wouldn't listen to blues or jazz music at all, also quotes his son as saying that when he was a child his mother and father used to play him "a calypso song out then called 'Run Joe'"

That will of course be this one:

[Excerpt: Louis Jordan, "Run Joe"]

I find it hard to reconcile the idea of someone who refused to listen to the blues or jazz listening to Louis Jordan, but then people are complex.

Whatever Otis senior's feelings about secular music, he recognised from a very early age that his son had a special talent, and encouraged him to become a gospel singer. And at the same time he was listening to Little Richard, young Otis was also listening to gospel singers. One particular influence was a blind street singer, Reverend Pearly Brown:

[Excerpt: Reverend Pearly Brown, "Ninety Nine and a Half Won't Do"]

Redding was someone who cared deeply about his father's opinion, and it might well have been that he would eventually have become a gospel performer, because he started his career with a foot in both camps.

What seems to have made the difference is that when he was sixteen, his father came down with tuberculosis. Even a few years earlier this would have been a terminal diagnosis, but thankfully by this point antibiotics had been invented, and the deacon eventually recovered. But it did mean that Otis junior had to become the family breadwinner while his father was sick, and so he turned decisively towards the kind of music that could make more money.

He'd already started performing secular music. He'd joined a band led by Gladys Williams, who was the first female bandleader in the area. Williams sadly doesn't seem to have recorded anything -- discogs has a listing of a funk single by a Gladys Williams on a tiny label which may or may not be the same person, but in general she avoided recording studios, only wanting to play live  -- but she was a very influential figure in Georgia music. According to her former trumpeter Newton Collier, who later went on to play with Redding and others, she trained both Fats Gonder and Lewis Hamlin, who went on to join the lineup of James Brown's band that made Live at the Apollo, and Collier says that Hamlin's arrangements for that album, and the way the band would segue from one track to another, were all things he'd been taught by Miss Gladys.

Redding sang with Gladys Williams for a while, and she took him under her wing, trained him, and became his de facto first manager. She got him to perform at local talent shows, where he won fifteen weeks in a row, before he got banned from performing to give everyone else a chance. At all of these shows, the song he performed was one that Miss Gladys had rehearsed with him, Little Richard's "Heeby Jeebies":

[Excerpt: Little Richard, "Heeby Jeebies"]

At this time, Redding's repertoire was largely made up of songs by the two greats of fift








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Episode 163: “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding

Episode 163: “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding

Andrew Hickey