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.”