….This past week or so there have been quite a few dates of importance for soul music lovers the world over. December 10 marked the 52nd anniversary of the tragic plane crash that saw the passing of the legendary OTIS REDDING, unquestionably one of the genre’s true pioneers. Otis was very much a part of my journey as a teenager in London first being introduced to what was then called R&B. With his achingly emotive style, the Georgia-born singer/songwriter had started to have an impact in the U.S. with early hits like “These Arms Of Mine,” “Pain In My Heart” and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” (his first ‘crossover’ single in 1965 followed shortly thereafter by his original of “Respect”); my own personal memories centre much around his version of The Temptations’ “My Girl.” The Motown group had a massive U.S. hit with the Smokey Robinson-penned track but in the U.K., it fizzled on the charts after a week prompting Atlantic Records to release Otis’ more acoustic cover as a single. It became one of the most popular records in Britain in December 1965: at the time, I was working to earn Saturday pocket money at a small record shop in N.W. London called Musicland (which specialized in the import of new singles from Jamaica, catering to the young immigrant population – known decades later as part of the ‘Windrush’ generation – who had come to Britain the ‘50s and early ‘60s) and would often recommend it our regular customers eager to hear the latest U.S. R&B releases.
Otis’ albums for Volt Records were full of soulful treasures: “Otis Blue” (from whence “My Girl” had come) included his surging, horn-driven version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” which to many of us Brit R&B purists sounded like it had been written ‘for’ Otis Mick Jagger & Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones) and 1966’s “The Soul Album,” which contained “Just One More Day,” “Good To Me” and one of my own personal favourites, “Cigarettes And Coffee” (co-written by fellow soul man Jerry Butler, who had also co-penned “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”.) Most memorable was the key cut from Otis’ fifth album (“Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul”), his rendition of the ‘30s song “Try A Little Tenderness” (covered by one, Aretha Franklin in 1962, five years before her breakthrough with her unforgettable version of Redding’s “Respect”) and it went on to become the final song in the set during Otis’ performance as the headliner of the famed Stax/Volt Revue’s spring 1967 European tour.
Still etched on my memory banks is seeing Otis at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon (just outside London) closing the show (which also included Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Booker T & The MGs and The Mar-Keys and special guest Arthur Conley) with his famous ‘gotta-gotta-gotta’ refrain on ‘Try A Little Tenderness,” the crowd unwilling to let him leave the stage!
That would be the first and only time I would see Otis Redding live. Before the year’s end, age 26, he was gone. The “Daily Mirror” newspaper in Britain reported it on December 11, with Otis “voted the world’s top male singer this year” feared dead in the plane crash over Lake Monona, Madison, Wisconsin. Like so many other soul music fans everywhere, I was stunned. In the aftermath, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” would become Otis’ biggest global anthem; posthumous albums such as “The Immortal Otis Redding” provided reminders of his singular and distinctive artistry. For me, “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember” and “I Love You More Than Words Can Say” remain my personal Redding favourites and while it may be over fifty years since he left, Otis Redding’s musical legacy is timeless… Look out for news on a recent podcast I did for ‘My Classic Soul’ on Mr. Redding and his music..
…In the world of timelessness…the iconic DIONNE WARWICK celebrated her 79th birthday on December 12. Those who know just a little bit about my own journey as a fan, then music journalist, then author, then reissue producer and liner notes writer will know how many times I have mentioned that it was Dionne’s music that sparked a chord within me back in 1964 which led to literally the life I’ve lived since! “Walk On By” remains my No. 1 recording of all time. As a devoted member of her British fan club in 1965, I read every article or interview on the New Jersey native I could find and it was within one such piece that she mentioned one, Nina Simone as one of her own favourites of the day. Dionne ‘led’ me to Nina (for whom I started the first British fan club in ’65) and Nina – in our first famous exchange at London’s Heathrow airport when I went to meet her, then-husband-manager Andy and four-year-old daughter Lisa – asked me if I’d heard of Aretha Franklin (for whom she was full of praise, ‘accusing’ Britain’s Dusty Springfield of trying to copy said Miss Franklin’s style!).
I’ve probably written hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of words about Dionne and her music. I could never have imagined – in my wildest dreams -that some fifty-five years after I was putting pics of Dionne on the walls of my room in London – I would not only get to interview her but also get to know her…and still be in touch on a personal basis. I could honestly write volumes about Dionne’s artistry and her unique place in popular culture. Instead, I will say simply, ‘thank you’ for the years of joy listening to and loving countless recordings and seeing memorable performances in Thailand, Argentina, Italy, throughout the U.S and the U.K. (with Dionne’s farewell British tour booked for the autumn of 2020). Meanwhile, check out my Spotify playlist for just a few of the treasured Warwick gems that still bring me so much pleasure…including a truly beautiful duet between Dionne & The Spinners, “Just As Long As We Have Love” (the B-side of “Then Came You”) that I have ‘rediscovered’…
….On the tour front, U.K. soul music fans will be delighted to learn that tickets are now on sale for the ‘Soul Explosion’ show at The Barbican in London on Sunday, April 12, 2020with SoulMusic Hall of Fame inductees BRENDA RUSSELL, REGINA BELLE and ANGELA WINBUSH. It’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity to see three of the most amazing female performances of our time on one bill…might even prompt some of their U.S. fans to ‘get here’!
…On the horizon, some amazing SoulMusic Records reissues including box sets on THE METERS, DIONNE WARWICK, SISTER SLEDGE, DAVID SANBORN and more…along with outstanding digital releases via SMR/Platinum Garage Recordings including music from LENNY WILLIAMS..
As always, stay soulful and have a wonderful holiday season…
With respect and appreciation….
The British Ambassador Of Soul