Two years ago this coming February, I headed out into a tundra of ice to make a ninety-mile trek to Milwaukee, WI to see the one and only Will Hoge. I had received his soul-searching The Man Who Killed Love. The show I saw inside that tiny little club smoked. Seriously, the edges of my jacket were singed from the intensity on that given night. Will is one of these performers whose shows are ingrained in my mind and I can vividly remember him opening with the pulverizing "Better Off Now", the revelatory "Bible vs. Gun" and the soul drenched "Woman Be Strong". During "Woman Be Strong" I felt as if the spirit of a great soul singer was in the room.
After the show, I stuck around for some face time with Will and I had a really good conversation with him. The first time I ever laid eyes on him, I felt as if he was a disciple of early Springsteen, but I was wrong. When asking him about his favorite artists and biggest influences, he mentioned Otis Redding twice. Somehow, even though my knowledge of Redding was limited, it jolted me. You see, Will has impeccable taste in music. His father was a musician and had a extensive record collection that Will grew up with. It almost makes me embarrassed that my introduction to rock n' roll was through Huey Lewis, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue and Metallica. As I drove home to Chicago, I made a pledge to expose myself to as much Otis Redding as possible.
I knew Redding was no longer alive, but was surprised to hear he died a mere two hours from where I live in Madison, WI on December 10th, 1967. Ironically, just days earlier, he recorded what would be his break through hit, "Sitting On The Dock of the Bay". However, what I found over the next few months was that he wasn't just a spectacular performer with a voice that can summon believers and followers. I was blessed to have a friend lend me his copy of Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding. The four disc, ninety-five song collection has everything one person could dream of. It has all of the soulful symphonic blues drenched r&b swagger one could dream of. On the night I ventured out to see Will Hoge in Milwaukee, I remember vividly there was a special edition of "American Idol" and as I watched Will, all I could think of was how much more powerful and meaningful his performance was than anything in the history of that show. Over the next few months, the invigorating spare ballads are immediate and timeless. God, why don't we have a show recognizing great unheard and under appreciated music? On top of it, Redding wrote most of his own material and the songs he borrowed, he embodied them rather than merely covering them. On the Otis! collection, "Mr. Pitiful" went into full rotation on my iPod. Ironically, it was performed a few times by the Rolling Stones on their 2005 tour.
The world is full of such timeless and soulful music and we all too often overlook it in favor of the flavors of the week. There's nothing wrong with being up with what's current and hip, but like Will Hoge, it's vital to our existence to be aware of the artists who inspired our idols and made them what they are today. I feel rather ashamed of myself that I didn't have an extensive Otis Redding collection before my conversation with Will Hoge. Regardless, what's important is that I now do and that hopefully one person will read this article and seek him out themselves.
Buy Otis Redding albums
An incredible article on the only survivor of the plane crash from 1967, Ben Cauley
Stax Museum to display Otis Redding memorabilia
Otis Redding Wikipedia Entry
Otis Redding Links on YouTube