‘He would just tear it up’: Robbie Robertson wanted Otis Redding to cover a key Bob Dylan song

Bob Dylan, at Robbie Robertson’s urging, handed one of his most famous songs off to Otis Redding in the hopes that he would do his own Stax-ified version of it. Things didn’t quite work out that way, however.

The track was “Just Like a Woman,” which eventually became a No. 33 U.S. hit for Dylan in 1966, and a Top 10 finisher for Manfred Mann in the UK. It emerged out of the mid-1960s-era Blonde on Blonde sessions in Nashville, during a period when future members of the Band were backing Dylan as he electrified his approach to folk.

“We were in Los Angeles, and we found out that Otis Redding was playing somewhere,” Robertson says. “So, the manager at the time — Albert Grossman — hooks it up for Bob and I to meet Otis, and [Redding manager, later Capricorn Records impresario] Phil Walden. So, we get together and I’m kind of pitching this song, and Otis says: ‘That sounds great to me.’”

Plans were moving forward, as far as Robertson knew. But the R&B legend’s subsequent album arrived without “Just Like a Woman.” Robertson says he ran into Walden and asked him what happened.

Turns out, Redding “went in and recorded it, and he couldn’t sing the bridge. He said: ‘I don’t know how to sing the bridge,’” Robertson remembers Walden saying. “‘In the bridge, the words are about amphetamines and pearls, and he couldn’t get those words to come out of his mouth in a truthful way. So, we had to put it aside.’”

Robertson still thinks Redding — who he says “was, to me, one of the greatest singers that ever walked the earth” — would have done something magical with the tune: “Absolutely. He would just tear it up.” Yet, Robertson understands Redding’s predicament, too. “If you can’t sing something with a complete honesty, then you shouldn’t be singing that thing. And he was just being honest about it.”

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