Otis Redding sadly died in a plane crash on December 10, 1967, just a month before his song “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was released three days after he recorded it.
The song became his biggest hit and was also the first-ever posthumous No. 1 single in the United States. The song also peaked No. 3 on the United Kingdom Singles Chart. It is unfortunate how the legendary soul singer never heard the finished version and witnessed his single breakthrough.
The Story Behind Redding’s Breakthrough Single
Otis Redding wrote “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” with his great friend Steve Cropper, who would not only finish the song but also come up with a melody to accompany them as well.
Redding was in the middle of a tour with The Bar-Kays when he wrote the song’s first verse on a houseboat at Waldo Point in Sausalito, California. He went on scribbling lines of the song on napkins and various bits of hotel paper.
Two months later, he joined Cropper at the Stax recording studio in Memphis to record the song.
In 1990, Cropper gave us a glimpse into the creation of the song. “Otis was one of those kinds of guys who had one hundred ideas,” he said. “The story that I got is that he was renting a boathouse or stayed at a boathouse or something, and that’s where he got the idea of the ships coming in the bay there. And that’s about all he had: ‘I watch the ships come in, and I watch them roll away again.'”
Cropper added that Redding has “always envisioned a ship going under the Golden Gate Bridge.” And Cropper “being a purist kind of guy I said, ‘Otis, did you ever think that if a ship rolls it’s going to take on water and sink,'” to which Redding answered, ‘Hell, Crop, that’s what I want,'”
Since Otis always got his way, Cropper took that and finished the lyrics.
The Most Famous Whistling In Music History
Interestingly, this song’s end came with what seemed to be the most famous whistling in music history, but most people did not know that this wasn’t planned.
“If you’re an Otis Redding fan, you’d know that he’s probably the world’s greatest at ad-libbing at the end of a song. Sometimes you could go another minute or two with Otis Redding’s adlibs – they were so spontaneous and felt so great,” Cropper explained on his website.
Redding had worked up “this little fadeout rap he was gonna do an adlib” for the song, but when it’s time for him to work his verbal magic, “He forgot what it was so he started whistling.” When Cropper and Stax Records’ engineer Ronnie Capone heard it, they knew it had to stay. As Redding had requested, the sound of seagulls and waves was also added to the song’s background. And the end result was one of the many instantly-memorable moments that stand out in the track.
“Sittin’ here restin’ my bones. And this loneliness won’t leave me alone, listen. Two thousand miles, I roam. Just to make this dock my home. Now I’m just gon’ sit, at the dock of the bay. Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh yeah. Sittin’ on the dock of the bay, wastin’ time,” the song goes.
Redding’s untimely death is absolutely heartbreaking. He was a rising star moving toward mainstream success, and there could be a great chance he would have recorded several more hits if he had lived.
But for now, tune in and listen to Otis Redding’s memorable performance of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.”