Tuned In To Music

Reflections from a lifetime

Review: Dreams to Remember: The Legacy of Otis Redding

“Dreams to Remember:  The Legacy of Otis Redding” is a 90 minute documentary on the late, great soul singer.  It contains interviews with Otis’ wife and daughter, Jim Stewart redding dvdone of the founders and owners of Stax-Volt the record company for which Otis recorded, Steve Cropper the brilliant guitar player and songwriter who cowrote with Redding many of his greatest songs and who was a mainstay of Booker T.’s MGs, the house band at Stax, and Wayne Jackson the trumpet player and core member of the Memphis Horns, the house horn section at Stax.  It also contains a lot of music ranging from lip-synched television performances through live-in-the-studio for TV performances to concert footage.

In the previous Tuned In To Music review I wrote that I was not the best person to provide a balanced review of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ “This Is Somewhere” because I don’t care for the country twang style that infuses much of their music.  The same type of problem exists here but for the opposite reason.  For decades I’ve believed that Otis Redding is the greatest soul singer, and one of the greatest, maybe the greatest singer of any kind that ever lived.  In the words of one of his great songs “I’ve been loving you too long / I can’t stop now.”  I’m simply unable to listen to this music or view this documentary dispassionately.

As documentaries go I suppose “Dreams to Remember” is only so-so.  Some of the video on the lip-synched TV segments is so awful it’s embarasssing.  The first two numbers were filmed outside at night with Otis lip-synching amidst a small crowd that includes people who appear completely uninterested or, in one case, angry about what’s going on.  You can see traffic going by in the background when the camera person screws up and shoots from a bad angle.  It doesn’t help that Otis was terrible at lip synching.

On the other hand, the interview segments with Cropper and Jackson are worth their weight in gold.  Cropper especially talks at length about the process of creating music at Stax in general and with Otis in particular.  People who are interested in the music aspect (as opposed to the business or celebrity aspects) of the music industry and who know and like Redding’s music are going to love the Cropper interviews.  In general, all of the interviews are interesting and whether you are listening to his family, his fellow musicians or the owner of his record label you come away with the strong message that while all of these people recognized Otis’ immense talent, they loved him and miss him more as a friend than as a musician.

For people like me, and I assume you, who did not know Redding personally, the story here is the music.  The interviews, the videos, the concert foootage are all nice but they’re all peripheral to the music.  Redding was an accomplished songwriter; he wrote “Respect” which ‘Retha Franklin would make into a world-class hit, for example.  However his greatest gift was as a singer.  Whether he was singing a ballad like “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” or an up-tempo number like the out choruses of “Try A Little Tenderness” he could invest a line with so much pure, raw emotion it is incomprehensible to me that anyone could listen to him sing and not be moved to awe or tears.  If you can go past the emotion and get down to the music you hear that he had a superb musical sense of dynamics, harmony and timing.  His voice weaves around the musical instruments in extraordinary ways.  Cropper says that Otis’ vocal abilities were such that backing him up was more like playing with another instrument than with a vocalist.  That captures it very well.  Jackson points out that Redding’s singing and horn lines were exceptionally tuned in to the rhythm.  There is a video of Otis covering “Glory of Love” (the Eddie Arnold song, not the song with the same name by Peter Cetera) that goes through a rhythmic passage that has to be heard to be believed.  I think that what happens is the song is sung and played in 3/4 time until the out chorus when it switches to 4/4.  However the change sounds like it doesn’t happen all at once but is stretched out over a couple of measures when the rhythm becomes fluid and undefined and the whole thing is held together by Redding’s vocal phrasing which somehow makes sense out of this free-time segment.  It’s amazing.

Redding’s one massive hit was “Sitting on the Dock on the Bay” and if that’s all you know about him you are in for a big surprise because it is a very atypical song for him.  “Dreams to Remember” might be a good place to get acquainted but I’d strongly recommend getting one of Redding’s compilation CDs instead.  If you already know and love Otis’ music, I think you will enjoy this DVD.

One final reminder that I did not view or evaluate”Dreams to Remember” without bias.  Otis Redding died on December 10, 1967 when the light plane he was in crashed into Lake Monona on the outskirts of Madison, Wisconsin.  He was 26.  I was one of the people in Madison that day waiting for his show.  I cannot listen to his music and I could not watch this DVD without awareness that forty years later I haven’t gotten over it.  I listen to so much music and write this blog because of that small percentage of music that has the capacity to move us as profoundly as the music of Otis Redding moves me.

I can’t stop now
No
No
Please don’t make me stop now

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03/11/2008 - Posted by | DVD reviews, music, music reviews

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