45 Years Ago: Otis Redding Releases ‘Love Man’
Long before Tupac Shakur enjoyed a lengthy life after death (on the charts, anyway) through a series of posthumous albums, Otis Redding had his own ghostly run of records, starting with 1968′s smash hit ‘The Dock of the Bay.’
That streak continued with ‘The Immortal Otis Redding,’ released later the same year, and ‘Love Man,’ which arrived in stores in June of 1969. Given Redding’s relatively brief career and scant output — he released six studio LPs between 1964 and his tragic death in a plane crash on Dec. 10, 1967 — it would seem unlikely that he’d have much in the way of unreleased material. However, there was actually quite a bit of music left in the vaults when he died; aside from being a soul singer of peerless repute, he had an uncommonly precise focus on his work.
“If I can keep a good mind with the help of the good Lord, I’m gonna keep producing records,” mused Redding in an interview shortly before his death. “You can’t have anything else on your mind but the music business. When I go into the studio, I’m strictly for business. I can go in there any time of the day and cut six songs if I want to. I don’t like any fooling around in the studio.”
He acquired his relentless drive the hard way. “I used to be a well driller,” recalled Redding in a 1967 interview. “I made a $1.25 an hour, drilling wells in Macon, Georgia. One day, I drove a friend of mine, Johnny Jenkins, up to do a recording session. They had 30 minutes left in the studio and I asked if I could do a song, ‘These Arms of Mine.’ They did it and it sold about 800,000 copies. I’ve been going ever since. I wrote that song in 1960, when I wasn’t even thinking of the music business. I recorded it in November 1962. I tried the song out with a small recording company but it didn’t do anything. I knew it was saying something, though. I dug the words.”
“That’s how it all started,” nodded guitarist Steve Cropper in a 1968 interview. “It’s phenomenal that he had been unnoticed up to then. He could have been discovered somewhere else five years later. It just happened this way. Just by sitting in a chair, he could show his interest in music. He wasn’t pushy about it or anything — he just mentioned to the guys he’d like to cut a record. He was so warm and so nice that we cut him without a second thought.”
While he may have been a late bloomer as a professional singer, music had long been an integral part of his life. “My mother and father and I used to go to parties when I was a kid. We used to go out to a place called Sawyer’s Lake in Macon,” he continued. “There was a calypso song out then, called ‘Run, Joe.’ My mother and daddy used to play that for me all the time. I just dug the groove. Ever since then I’ve been playing music. As I was growing up, I did a lot of talent shows. I won 15 Sunday nights straight in a series of talent shows in Macon. I showed up the 16th night and they wouldn’t let me go on any more. Whatever success I had was through the help of the good Lord.”
While the 12-track ‘Love Man’ didn’t exert as much of an impact on the pop charts as ‘The Dock of the Bay,’ and failed to match the No. 3 R&B peak attained by ‘The Immortal Otis Redding,’ it still fared respectably, reaching No. 46 on the pop chart and No. 8 at R&B. And while the tracklisting doesn’t have as many widely known classics as its predecessors, it nonetheless managed to send a fresh stack of singles to the airwaves, including ‘A Lover’s Question,’ ‘Free Me’ and the title track. By this time, Redding had a distinctive enough sound that just a syllable from his vocal cords was enough to perk up discerning listeners’ ears.
Hear Otis Redding Perform ‘Free Me’
Redding tried to define his brand of soul for one interviewer, saying, “Everybody thinks that all songs by colored people are rhythm and blues, but that’s not true. Johnny Taylor, Muddy Waters and B.B. King are blues singers. James Brown is not a blues singer. He has a rock and roll beat and he can sing slow pop songs. My own songs ‘Respect’ and ‘Mr. Pitiful‘ aren’t blues songs. I’m speaking in terms of the beat and structure of the music. A blues is a song that goes 12 bars all the way through. Most of my songs are soul songs. When I go in to record a song, I only have a title and maybe a first verse. The rest I make up as we’re recording. We’ll cut it three or four times and I’ll sing it different every time.”
That sweet Stax sound may have been lumped in with Motown in commercial terms, but as any soul fan could tell you, that didn’t mean it was the same. “Motown does a lot of overdubbing. It’s mechanically done,” argued Redding. “At Stax the rule is: whatever you feel, play it. We cut everything together — horns, rhythm and vocal. We’ll do it three or four times, go back and listen to the results and pick the best one. If somebody doesn’t like a line in the song, we’ll go back and cut the whole song over. Until last year, we didn’t even have a four-track tape recorder. You can’t overdub on a one-track machine.”
That comparatively primitive setup makes it all the more remarkable that Redding was able to amass such an impressive body of work in such a short period of time — but while his musical talent and incredible work ethic were worth celebrating in their own right, the musicians who knew him best understood that his true gifts lay in the type of person he was. For guitarist Steve Cropper, who worked alongside Redding and produced the string of posthumous records that included ‘Love Man,’ his untimely death meant much more than the loss of one of soul music’s brightest talents.
“He was a pure man,” recalled Cropper. “Anything you say about him has to be good. He was a good person. He always got along well with the people around him. As far as I know he didn’t have any enemies. He never irritated people. He always thought about the other person and he was nice to be around. He was just a nice all-around guy and it showed up in his records and his work. When Otis came in to work, he turned everybody on. He put so much into it…I’m satisfied with everything I ever did on Otis’ records. Everything he did was an accomplishment. What he put on it, made the whole thing. It was Otis and it sounded great.”