Otis Redding tried something new with ‘Dock of the Bay,’ even if someone else got credit

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An unfinished take on a signature song gave Otis Redding the chance to try something new — even as one of Stax’s best-known studio figures tried to convince him otherwise. Then, in a weird historical twist, somebody else got the credit for it, anyway.

The occasion was a late November 1967 session with co-writer and producer Steve Cropper, and the song was “(Sitting on) The Dock of the Bay,” a track that — when released in January 1968, after Otis Redding’s tragic death in a plane crash — would become the soul shouter’s first charttopping pop single. Cropper says Otis arrived in the studio without having conceived a proper ending, and that led to perhaps Redding’s most memorable improvisation.

“On the record, he started whistling because he didn’t really have anything to fade out with,” Cropper tells BBC Radio Scotland. “If you listen to almost 99 percent of all of Otis’ other songs, he’s got a fadeout that he goes into, a chant or a rap or something that’s totally different from the rest of the song. But on that particular one, he couldn’t think of anything — and he started whistling. He really didn’t get it right until about the third take, and that was it.”

Interestingly, sideman Sam “Bluzman” Taylor has somehow begun to receive credit for this moment. Cropper, however, notes that subsequently released studio outtakes confirm that it was, in fact, Otis Redding who did the whistling.

“There’s a documentary CD out with outtakes, and on the take just before [the hit single version], you can hear Ron Capone, the engineer, say: ‘Hey, Steve, move in on the mic’ — meaning, get closer with the acoustic,” Cropper adds. “And then he says something like, ‘Otis, one thing for sure; you’ll never be a whistler.’ [Laughs.] Well, he turned out to be a pretty good whistler!”

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