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yet another craig ferguson post

random friday, 1965 edition: otis redding, “that’s how strong my love is”

In some ways, it’s harder to find something to say about the true greats. I might tell you something you didn’t know about Lesley Gore or the Jive Five, but who doesn’t know about Otis Redding? For me, he is the greatest soul singer of them all. It’s a cliché to ask “where were you when so-and-so died?” And, truth be told, no one ever asked me that about Otis, although Elvis and John Lennon get the question (as, I imagine, do Kurt Cobain and Tupac Shakur for younger generations).

But I remember quite clearly where I was when I heard that Otis Redding died. As I have done all of my life, in 1967 I slept with the radio on. It was mid-December, and I was 14 years old and in 10th grade. In the middle of the night, I woke up. The radio was tuned to KMPX, the first “underground” station in San Francisco:


1967 was the year of the Summer of Love, and also the year of the Monterey Pop Festival, which introduced Otis to “the Love Crowd.” Soon after Monterey, Otis released Live in Europe, which was the first album of his I bought. His performance on that album was frenzied … even “Try a Little Tenderness” rose to an unstoppable conclusion. He did slow it down for what is arguably his finest song, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” but most of Live in Europe was fast and hot. And that night in December, when I woke up, KMPX was playing Side Two of Live in Europe: “Satisfaction/Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa/These Arms of Mine/Day Tripper/Try a Little Tenderness.” By the end of “Tenderness,” I was bouncing around in my bed, wondering why I was being rewarded with such a great middle-of-the-night treat. And when the song ended, the disc jockey came on and told the listeners that Otis Redding was dead.

I can never talk about Otis Redding without emphasizing this fact: when he died, Otis Redding was 26 years old. He sang with the enthusiasm of youth, but he had the soul of a much older man, and that came out in his singing as well. It is pretty much impossible to listen to him and believe he never saw 27.

While Otis wrote a lot of his own material, “That’s How Strong My Love Is” was written by a man named Roosevelt Jamison, who had a finger in a few pies in Memphis in the mid-60s. It was the lead track on Otis’ 1965 album, The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads (it’s a mark of his stature that, on only his second album, released when he was 23 years old, he could be called “The Great Otis Redding” and it wasn’t hyperbole). Like so many of the best soul songs, “That’s How Strong My Love Is” features lyrics that are simple but evocative, lyrics that leave room for the singer to express his or her emotions (and Otis worked the lyrics over, despite the songwriting credit to Jamison … he dumped one verse, added another, and repeated the title more than a dozen times … oh yeah, and he changed the music, as well):

If I was the sun way up there
I'd go with love most everywhere
I'll be the moon when the sun goes down
Just to let you know that I'm still around
That's how strong my love is

I'll be the weeping willow drowning in my tears
You can go swimming when you're here
I'll be the rainbow after the tears are gone
Wrap you in my colors and keep you warm
That's how strong my love is

I'll be the ocean so deep and wide
I'll get out the tears whenever you cry,
I'll be the breeze after the storm is gone
To dry your eyes and love you warm
That's how strong my love is

Redding was popular with a lot of British Invasion bands, and the Rolling Stones put “That’s How Strong My Love Is” on their Out of Our Heads album. Who knows when the Stones first heard it … the single was released in late ‘64 or early ‘65, the album in March of ‘65, and Out of Our Heads was in the shops five months later. One thing is certain, it’s Otis that the Stones heard … their version is Otis’ version, not the original, which had been sung by O.V. Wright. They didn’t do to badly by it, either:

But Mick would be the first to admit that Otis Redding owned the song. Amazingly, given how much live Otis video is out there, I couldn’t find any of this song. So Lala will have to do:

That's How Strong My Love Is –...

Meanwhile, here are a couple of other Otis live classics from Monterey. First, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (with “Satisfaction” afterwards … Otis thanks the Stones for their support by covering one of their tunes). The filming of Otis at Monterey isn’t good … I’ve always assumed there’s no better footage in the archives. Here, a spotlight blinds the audience, but Otis carries on:

And his regular set-closer, “Try a Little Tenderness” … this time, we get to see a couple of minutes of flower children, but the camera finds Redding just in time for the hyper climax:

“I got to go, y’all, and I don’t wanna go.”

And finally, this, another version of “Try a Little Tenderness,” minus most of the shtick (I loved the shtick, it’s what had me bouncing in my bed, but he didn’t need it). This was recorded with the Bar-Kays not long before the plane crashed: