Friday Five: Covering Otis

Who’s the man? Otis Redding is the man.

Proof of this truth lies in the fact that when other musicians listen to Otis they are so moved by what they hear that they become infected with his soul. The only thing they want to do is what Otis does. But most of them also know that they can’t do what Otis does. They’re simply not as good, or as soulful, and so they translate what they felt into something that is true to them.

Here are five great covers of great Otis Redding songs. Each one tries to harness something from the master, but most do so in ways unique to themselves.

5. “Hard to Handle” (Black Crowes)
Chris Robinson and the Black Crowes were young and stupid in 1990, when they released their debut album, Shake Your Money Maker. Lucky they were massively talented, too. The album’s first single “Hard to Handle” and, in some ways, Robinson tries to one-up Otis. Wrapped up in the bluesy, rock style of the band, what could have been a failed impersonation turns into something fantastic.

4. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (Ike & Tina Turner)
If there’s a duo who could give Otis a run for his money when it comes to soul it just might be Ike and Tina Turner. In this cover (and in many ways some of their greatest performances were covers), both Tina and Ike change it up to convert a sweet ballad into something gritty and pained.

3. “Security” (Mavis Staples)
Mavis Staples knows what she can do. Here she takes the original and turns it into something more. Part of that is the guitar lick that drives the cover (and gives us the feel of times) but the rest is Ms. Staples’ powerful vocals elevating us to new heights.

2. “Try A Little Tenderness” (Frank Sinatra)
There are many covers of this song–perhaps the greatest performance Otis ever gave us–but most try to do what Otis did and, in so doing, they fall short. Sinatra takes romantic lyrics and a sweet melody and makes it all his.

1. “Respect” (Aretha Franklin)
Let’s not beat around the bush–this is the greatest cover of all time and one of the greatest things ever recorded. Aretha is the exception to the rule in that she can do what Otis can do…and then some. Here she gives us some of that, converting a song about an upset man into a Muscle Shoals infused feminist and civil rights anthem. It’s nothing short of greatness!

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Monday Blues (03.07.11)

Ike Turner (Mississippi, 1931-2007), “Rocket 88” (1951). (Listen to the song here.)

Born in the delta region of Clarksdale, Mississippi, the Kings of Rhythm included Raymond Hill and Jackie Brenston on sax, Willie Kizart on guitar, Willie Sims on drums, Jonny O’Neal on vocals, and Ike Turner on piano. In 1951 they headed up to Memphis to record some of their songs, including a group of tunes by Turner. They recorded the boogie woogie meets jump blues “Rocket 88” at the Memphis Recording Service, a small studio where owner and producer Sam Phillips recorded local talent and then licensed them to independent labels. In 1952, Phillips renamed the studio Sun Records when he started putting out records on his own label.

As the story goes, Kizart’s amp was damaged in the groups trip up the delta, creating the distortion on top of what was already a pretty jagged guitar line written by Turner. After hearing Turner sing on a couple of other recordings, Phillips recommended somebody else sing vocals on “Rocket 88.” Saxophonist Brenston was chosen. When Phillips sold the single to Chess, he credited it to “Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats.” The single went to #1 on the R&B charts later that year.

Some consider it to be “the” first Rock ‘n Roll sing ever recorded.