How 'Otis Blue' Invented Southern Soul

Otis Redding in 1965
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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Southern soul music has a number of albums that are without question essential to a music lover’s collection - think Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You and Lady Soul, Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul, Carla Thomas’ The Queen Alone, Al Green’s Call Me and I’m Still in Love with You, and others. That conversation must also include Otis Redding’s Otis Blue / Otis Redding Sings Soul, his 1965 masterpiece that cemented his status as one of the great R&B voices in America.

Otis Blue was, amazingly, recorded mostly in a single 24-hour session that began the morning of July 9, 1965. Present and accounted for in addition to Redding were Booker T. & The M.G.’s (the Stax Records house band), Hayes on piano and a horn section created from various other Stax acts. By the next afternoon, the entire record was finished.

Though most of Otis Blue consisted of cover tunes, Side 1’s three best songs came from Redding’s pen, beginning with the album-opening “Ole Man Trouble,” a bluesy stomper spiked with horns that grow in prominence until the end of the song, when they are practically the lead voices. It’s a song so powerful, it appeared again on Redding’s posthumously released 1968 record Dock of the Bay.

READ MORE: March 1968: Otis Redding's "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" Becomes First Posthumous No. 1 Single

Another Redding-penned number on the side is “Respect,” a song whose definitive version would be recorded by Franklin two years later, but which gets quite the workout here. Of course, the perspectives of the song are flipped - Redding sounds more pleading; Franklin was definitely more demanding - but that does not detract from the tune’s power.

READ MORE: How Aretha Franklin Made "Respect" Her Own

Along with his debut single, “These Arms of Mine,” Redding’s "I've Been Loving You Too Long" is perhaps his definitive ballad. He sounds vulnerable here, but the backing of the horns and guitarist Steve Cropper prop him up, bolstering him sufficiently to let one of his great vocal performances emerge.

On Otis Blue, Redding takes on a trio of songs popularized by his contemporary, Sam Cooke, who had died the previous winter. One of these is a sprightly take on Cooke’s signature “Wonderful World.”

READ MORE: Still Sending Us: Eight Songs of Sam Cooke

A breathless run through The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” comes late on the album, taking the Brits’ version of R&B back down to the southern U.S., to show them how it was done.

READ MORE: Remembering Otis Redding: My Classic Soul Podcast

Otis Blue still stands today as a monument to its maker, and to the Southern soul it (and he) represented. Not bad for a day’s work.

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Photo By Robert Altman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
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