‘What are we going to do?’: Steve Cropper remembers Otis Redding’s final recording sessions

As important, and as emotional, as “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” has always been to Otis Redding’s legacy, there has long been a misconception about it: That it was the last song Redding worked on before dying in a Wisconsin plane crash in December 1967.

“It really wasn’t,” co-writer and producer Steve Cropper tells Ron Wood. “Technically, we cut the song about two weeks prior to that. It was something that Otis and I had been living with. We kept getting it out and playing it, and going: ‘That’s our hit!’ We knew we had a hit. Sometimes you know that you have a hit.”

Then, of course, tragedy struck. Cropper went to work completing the song, which would be released in 1968 by Stax Records’ Volt imprint. “Dock of the Bay” became a posthumous No. 1 and, in many ways, the defining song of Redding’s career.

One of its key elements — the oceanside sound effects — was added during this emotional post-production process. Even that, Cropper adds, was with Redding’s blessing, however. “He and I had talked about it: ‘What are we going to do? How are we doing to finish it?’” Cropper says. “During the mixing of the song, he had clowned around, making what he called seagull sounds on the record. And I said: ‘I wonder what it would sound like if we actually put some ocean waves and seagulls on it,’ so that it really did appear that Otis was sitting on a dock by a bay?”

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