Study Guide

(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay

(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay Introduction

In a Nutshell

Waves crashing. Laid-back soul. Cheerful whistles. "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" sounds like a vacation song, one you can close your eyes and feel at peace to.

Otis Redding came up with the idea for "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" in 1967, while he was living on a houseboat docked on the San Francisco Bay. He'd been on the road for Stax Records (a situation he was growing a little weary of) and changing as an artist, and plunked out these peaceful chords and lyrics while "resting his bones" by the ocean.

Though the song was inspired by real events, and is at some level autobiographical, listeners have come up with some very different interpretations for this song. Some think it's an expression of peace with life, while others hear overwhelming sadness, which isn't surprising. Redding tragically died in a plane crash at 26, drowning in very icy Wisconsin waters—much different than the waves in his song—just days after recording. Those whistles? They were meant to be a placeholder, but Redding died before a verse could be filled in. A perfect fit, they made the song famous. 

Despite the song's mixed interpretations, everybody agrees on the fact that it's intimate, emotional, and powerful, and it guarantees a reflective mood for the listener.

About the Song

ArtistRedding, Otis
Year1968
LabelStax/Volt, reissued by Atco
Writer(s)Otis Redding, Steve Cropper
Producer(s)Steve Cropper
Musician(s)Otis Redding (vocals), Steve Cropper (guitar), Booker T. Jones & Isaac Hayes (keyboards), Donald "Duck" Dunn (bass), Al Jackson, Jr. (drums), Wayne Jackson (trumpet)
Learn to playTablature
AlbumThe Dock of the Bay

Music Video

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Influences on Redding, Otis

Otis Redding's greatest influence was another Macon, Georgia, resident: Little Richard.

Influenced by Redding, Otis

Dozens of artists have explicitly acknowledged the influence of Otis Redding on their work or paid tribute to his importance by covering his songs:

The Grateful Dead
The Doors
Willie Nelson
Al Green
Arthur Conley
The Black Crowes
The Righteous Brothers
Pearl Jam
John Mayer
Christine Aguilera
Etta James
Rod Stewart
Michael Bolton
Kanye West
Kelly Clarkson
Toots Hibbert of Toots & The Maytals

(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay Resources

Books

Scott Freeman, Otis!: The Otis Redding Story (2001)
There's a fair amount of Georgia pride in this biography—Freeman's previous work includes a book on the Allman Brothers. This is a highly readable account of Redding's life and the evolution of the Memphis Sound that Redding helped create.

Peter Guralnick, Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom (1999)
Otis Redding joins a host of soul artists such as James Brown, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, James Carr, Solomon Burke, Al Green, and Wilson Pickett in Guralnick's interesting and authoritative analysis of soul music's evolution from the 1950s forward.

Albums

Pain in My Heart (1964)
Redding's impressive debut album. His covers of "You Send Me," "Stand by Me," "Lucille," and "Pain in My Heart" are solid. But the best reason to get the album is Redding's own "These Arms of Mine."

Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul (1966)
Rolling Stone magazine calls Redding's fifth album "one of the best examples of the Memphis soul sound" (source).  It includes some of the biggest hits that Redding wrote—"Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)" and "My Lover's Prayer" as well as his powerful cover of James Campbell, Reginald Connell, and Harry M. Woods' "Try a Little Tenderness."

Dock of the Bay (1968)
One of four albums released posthumously, the title track is accompanied by unreleased recordings put together by Steve Cropper, Redding's guitarist and songwriting partner.

Images

Steve Cropper
Cropper co-wrote "Dock of the Bay" with Redding.

Breakout Performance
Redding performing at the Monterey Pop Festival, 1967.

Movies & TV

Otis Redding: Respect: Live, 1967 (1967)
You get the best of both worlds in this rockumentary that includes footage from both his 1967 tour with Booker T. and the MGs and his epic performance at the Monterey Pop Festival.

Dreams to Remember: The Legacy of Otis Redding (2007)
This is a more retrospective look at the life and career of Otis Redding. Concert footage and television performances are mixed with interviews, including ones with both Redding and Steve Cropper, his most important co-writer.

Websites

Official Otis Redding Website
This site offers news, merchandise, videos, images, and a biography. It also provides information on the foundation established by his wife to further Redding's goal of giving back to his community.

History of Soul Music
This site offers some useful information on the history of soul music, including short biographies of the record labels (such as Redding's Stax Records) that were at the center of soul music.

Video & Audio

"Mr. Pitiful" (Live)
"Mr. Pitiful" gives you an idea of the must-see performances Redding was known for.