"(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" is a song co-written by soul singer Otis Redding and guitarist Steve Cropper. It was recorded by Redding twice in 1967, including once just days before his death in a plane crash. The song was released on Stax Records' Volt label in 1968, becoming the first posthumous single to top the charts in the US. It reached number 3 on the UK Singles Chart.
Redding started writing the lyrics to the song in August 1967, while sitting on a rented houseboat in Sausalito, California. He completed the song with the help of Cropper, who was a Stax producer and the guitarist for Booker T. & the M.G.'s. The song features whistling and sounds of waves crashing on a shore.
While on tour with the Bar-Kays in August 1967, Redding wrote the first verse of the song, under the abbreviated title "Dock of the Bay," on a houseboat at Waldo Point in Sausalito, California. He had completed his famed performance at the Monterey Pop Festival just weeks earlier. While touring in support of the albums King & Queen (a collaboration with female vocalist Carla Thomas) and Live in Europe, he continued to scribble lines of the song on napkins and hotel paper. In November of that year, he joined producer and guitarist Steve Cropper at the Stax recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee, to record the song.
In a September 1990 interview on NPR's Fresh Air, Cropper explained the origins of the song:
Otis was one of those the kind of guy who had 100 ideas. He had been in San Francisco doing The Fillmore. And the story that I got he was renting 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." I just took that… and I finished the lyrics. If you listen to the songs I collaborated with Otis, most of the lyrics are about him. Otis didn't really write about himself but I did. Songs like "Mr. Pitiful," "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)"; they were about Otis and Otis' life. "Dock of the Bay" was exactly that: "I left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay" was all about him going out to San Francisco to perform.
Together, they completed the music and melancholy lyrics of "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." From those sessions emerged Redding's final recorded work, including "Dock of the Bay," which was recorded on November 22, with additional overdubs on December 7. Redding's restrained yet emotive delivery is backed by Cropper's memorably succinct guitar playing. The song is somewhat different in style from most of Redding's other recordings. While discussing the song with his wife, Redding stated that he had wanted to "be a little different" with "The Dock of the Bay" and "change his style". There were concerns that "The Dock of the Bay" had too much of a pop feel for an Otis Redding record, and contracting the Stax gospel act the Staple Singers to record backing vocals was discussed but never carried out. Redding had considered the song to be unfinished and planned to record what he considered a final version, but never got the chance.
The song features a whistled tune heard before the song's fade. It was originally performed by Redding, who (according to Cropper) had "this little fadeout rap he was gonna do, an ad-lib. He forgot what it was so he started whistling." Redding continued to tour after the recording sessions. On December 10, his charter plane crashed into Lake Monona, outside Madison, Wisconsin. Redding and six others were killed.
After Redding's death, Cropper mixed "Dock of the Bay" at Stax Studios. He added the sound of seagulls and waves crashing to the background, as Redding had requested, recalling the sounds he heard when he was staying on the houseboat.
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