There had been, to be sure, other versions of “Try a Little Tenderness,” beginning with the Ray Noble Orchestra in 1932. Aretha Franklin had an early-1960s hit with it, too. But none is quite so revered as Otis Redding’s take.
“Nobody will ever sing ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ like Otis sang it,” says Steve Cropper — and he should know. Cropper was a sideman and co-producer on the Redding’s 1966 version, which straddled an unsual beat to ramp up into a volcanic coda. Redding’s single shot to No. 25 on the Billboard charts, and later earned induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Along the way, the others who have made passes at this track include Rod Stewart, Etta James, Frank Sinatra, Three Dog Night, Percy Sledge, Florence and the Machine, Al Jarreau, Nina Simone and Tina Turner, among others. Still, it remains one of the songs most closely associated not with them, but with Redding — who recorded the Isaac Hayes-arranged update with Booker T. and the MGs.
“He wasn’t the first,” Cropper adds on this newly uploaded clip from Dreams To Remember: The Legacy Of Otis Redding, “but you don’t need to listen anymore after you hear him do it. When I first heard it, the day that we listened to it, it seemed a little more progressive than anything we had cut with Otis before. When [MGs drummer] Al Jackson came up with that beat, just doing the cross stick, it sort of doubled the time without really doubling the time. It was a double click, but the time stayed the same.”
Cropper then did something unique, and still unexplainable, with the riff: “I don’t know what influenced me to make that sort of Latin pick up. It was more of a Drifters kind of a groove. But, when we actually got into the recording, I think all of that went away — and we were just listening to Otis Redding. Everything else was sort of insignificant, as far as I was concerned.”