Music this gut wrenching and gritty should come with a warning label on the package. As long as you’ve got a pulse and an ounce of compassion in your body, you’re bound to have your deepest emotions put through the ringer when listening to the late Otis Redding sing. Released on September 18, a documentary entitled, Dreams To Remember: The Legacy Of Otis Redding, captures eighteen stage and television performances of the soul legend, along with brand new commentary by some who knew him best.
Between each performance, insight and recollections are offered by Stax Records founder James Stewart, Booker T & The MG’s guitarist Steve Cropper, who co-wrote and played many songs with Redding, and the Memphis Horns’ trumpeter Wayne Jackson, who played on every Redding recording. As well, Redding’s widow, Zelma Redding, offers her own reminiscences, adding a personal dimension to the man she called her husband and the father of their three children.
The performances, especially the ones recorded live, could bring tears to your eyes or strike lightning in your veins, depending on the song. Redding moans like a desperate man in pain on his classic, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now),” during a 1967 show before a rapt London audience, which notably includes a student of rhythm and blues named Mick Jagger. By contrast, Redding turns the Monterey Pop Festival on its head with an explosive version of “Shake.” Watching thousands of hippies, many of whom hadn’t yet familiarized themselves with Redding’s music, sitting utterly entranced by his seminal performance is quite a sight to behold. It was “the highlight of his life,” Zelma Redding remembers with pride.
While the performances comprise the meat of this film, it’s the commentary between the tracks that add valuable perspective. In one instance, Steve Cropper remembers when a then-unknown Otis Redding first performed at Stax Records in Memphis. Redding had approached Cropper with an idea for a song and so Cropper suggested that Redding play it on the piano. While he could play the guitar, Redding said that he didn’t play piano, instead directing an available musician to the keys. “Give me them church chords!” Cropper remembers an inspired Redding shouting before he laid into what would become his first single, “These Arms Of Mine.”
Wayne Jackson fondly recalls how Redding would instruct and utilize the Memphis Horns like they were background singers (as there were no background vocals on his songs). Such is evident on performances of “I Can’t Turn You Loose” and “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song),” among many others not even featured in this film.
“If I had to pick the best record that Stax ever made," James Stewart asserts, “It would be ‘Try A Little Tenderness’.” The live performance of that song featured in this film, sadly, was taped one day prior to Redding’s untimely death in a plane crash.
Indeed, the most touching portion of this film concerns Redding’s demise at age 26 on December 10, 1967. Wayne Jackson, visibly distressed nearly forty years later, measures the tragedy within the context of Stax Records, saying, “When Otis died, the driving force was gone. And then when Martin Luther King got killed [four months later], the friendliness went out of Memphis.”
Hitting much closer to home, Zelma Redding says in reflection, “Here I am at 24 years old, with 3 kids, and I don’t know what to do with my life.”
As soon as he learned of the tragedy, Steve Cropper assumed the emotionally difficult task of mixing a track that Redding had only recently written and recorded. With its country styling and laid-back sound, it resembled none of his previous songs. However, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” would ultimately yield more popular success and recognition than anything Redding had released during his short life. The video for this song that’s included in the film was specifically created for this project.
Dreams To Remember: The Legacy Of Otis Redding represents a fitting tribute to the spirit and enduring appreciation of Otis Redding’s life and music. In doing so, this film also makes a solid case that the Big O was and forever will remain the quintessential Soul Man.