Some albums were meant to be played on rainy days.
In our house, Otis Redding’s Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul—released fifty years ago this October 15—qualifies, whether it inspires slow Carolina-shagging across the living room floor to “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” or dancing up a storm to “Try a Little Tenderness” like Pretty in Pink’s Duckie.
There’s love and swagger and soul in each of the Macon, Georgia, artist’s originals and covers—including a driving-tempo take on The Beatles’ “Day Tripper”—all laced with a bit of melancholy. Put down at Stax Records in Memphis with now-legendary musicians such as Booker T. and the M.G.’s, Isaac Hayes, and the Memphis Horns, Dictionary would be Redding’s last solo studio album. The singer-songwriter died the following year, at just twenty-six, in a plane crash on his way to a concert in Wisconsin.
Karla Redding-Andrews, one of the soul legend’s three children with his wife, Zelma, was only five when she lost her father. Today, she acts as the executive director of the Otis Redding Foundation in Macon, which offers music education programs and is the driving force behind the DREAM Academy, expected to open in fall 2017 as the state’s first charter school to integrate music and the arts. “People know that [Otis] was great musically, that he has a catalog that is just amazing,” says Redding-Andrews. “But nobody really knew the man, and what really drove him to do what he did. Even when I was small, he was adamant I would go on to college. He didn’t get to finish high school, and he was smart enough to know that it took that level of learning to be successful.”
He certainly looks the scholar on the cover of Dictionary, though. “The actual cap that he wore on the album cover, we still have that,” Redding-Andrews says. “It’s so nice to be able to have these tangible items that connect us.” And now a new link to that past is available. To commemorate the album’s 1966 debut, Rhino recently reissued a double LP with remastered stereo and mono versions of Dictionary’s twelve songs, as well as a two-CD edition with eight bonus tracks. The highlight: an almost-seven-minute “Tenderness” recorded live in the summer of 1967. “You get to feel all of his energy, and everything he puts into his performances,” says Redding-Andrews of the live cuts. A charisma as electrifying now as it was then.
Here, Redding-Andrews shares her thoughts on some of her favorite underappreciated Otis songs.
“Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)”
Mom has always said that that was one of the most fun songs he wrote—he always wanted to have something where he could get the audience or his band to participate vocally.
“Ton of Joy”
A beautiful ode to a woman who meant so much to him, and I’m sure that’s my mom.
“Loving by the Pound”
Most of the time when he wrote [songs], he took the paper with him, and it went off to Memphis. But luckily, we actually have the piece of paper where he wrote the lyrics to ‘Loving by the Pound’ in our archives.
It pays homage to a group that my father loved so much.
“I’ve Got Dreams to Remember”
Which my mother wrote—it’s one of my favorites. That song was not even quite finished when he died, and studio musicians had to go in and finish. She had written [it] just as a poem for him. So that one certainly means a lot to me.