Song Meaning (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding

The composition (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay was supposed to mark a new stage in the career of the American singer Otis Redding, but fate wanted it to become his posthumous hit. The author and performer of the song never heard its final version.

But music critics and ordinary music lovers praised his work so highly that it was awarded several prestigious awards and entered various authoritative ratings of the best tracks.

Song Story Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay

Producer Steve Cropper spoke in such detail about the recording of the track that his memoirs alone are already enough to fully cover the history of the creation of the song.

The following are excerpts from an interview with Mark Myers of the Wall Street Journal:

In the fall of 1967, I was a producer at Stax Records in Memphis and guitarist for Booker T. & the MGs, the label’s session band. In November, I was in the studio when Otis Redding called me from the Memphis airport.

Usually, when Otis came to town, he would first check into the Holiday Inn and then invite me to work with him on songs in his room. This time he couldn’t wait. He said, “Crop, I’ve got a hit. I will now.”

When Otis came in, he said, “Crop, get the guitar.” I always had a Gibson B-29 on hand. He grabbed it, tuned it to an open E chord, which is easier to play on the guitar with a slide. Otis then played and sang a verse he composed…

Otis revealed that he started writing the song while in San Francisco. Producer Bill Graham must have let him stay at his houseboat in Sausalito, as Neil Young said he stayed there right after Otis left to return to the East Coast.

When Otis and I finished writing the rest of the music and lyrics, I did the arrangement and we set up a time in the studio. On the scheduled day, I played acoustic guitar, Duck Dunn on bass, Al Jackson on drums, Booker on piano, and Wayne Jackson on trumpet and two other brass…

On Friday, December 8th, before leaving for a series of regional shows, Otis popped into the studio with his head in the door and said, “See you Monday.” When he left, I started overdubbing the electric guitar… I tried to imitate the cries of seagulls. Even before the session, Otis was fooling around in the studio, shouting with the voices of seabirds from Sausalito.

This was Cropper’s last meeting with Redding, as Otis died in a plane crash. The plane he was on board crashed into the lake. Only one passenger survived, sitting right behind the musician.

Steve Cropper recounts further events:

When we got back to Stax on Monday, Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler called… Jerry said we had to release the Otis single immediately. I said, “Jerry, we just lost Otis. We haven’t mixed anything yet and I can’t even think about it at all.” But Jerry insisted.

So early Tuesday morning I started mixing “Dock of the Bay” by myself. I wanted to enhance the image of the bay, like a secret message to Otis. I got a local friend to help with the sound effects of the sea and seagulls, and then lightly added them here and there.

Having finished mixing by the next morning, I took the master tape to the Memphis airport and gave the box to an employee who was flying to New York. In New York, she was met by an Atlantic representative, and the label made a test record for Jerry.

But Jerry wasn’t happy. He wanted Otis’ vocals to be louder and requested a new arrangement. She seemed perfect to me, and I didn’t want to touch her. Then I had an idea. Jerry’s tape was in stereo. Bass and guitar came from the left speaker, while drums and vocals came from the right.

When I converted stereo to mono by playing the same audio information from both speakers, the vocals were boosted by two decibels. So I did, but I don’t think I fooled Jerry. He liked what I sent and that’s what you hear on the single.

Not all of Redding’s colleagues considered the composition promising. Both Stax president Jim Stewart and some session musicians recalled being unimpressed at first with the song. But Cropper, according to him, immediately recognized in (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay the future hit:

It was just a great song. We understood that we finally had a song that would open up for him [Отиса] pop market.

Performing Songwriter

Redding himself also prophesied a great future for his creation:

This is my first entry for the first line of the charts. This is the most important song I have ever written.

Performing Songwriter

Apparently, the song is autobiographical. Another word to Cropper:

If you listen to the songs that I wrote with Otis, you will understand that most of them are about him. He usually didn’t write about himself, but I did. Mr. Pitiful, Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song) – they were about Otis’ life. Dock of the Bay is exactly the same. “I left home in Georgia and went to the San Francisco Bay,” all about how he went to perform in San Francisco.

Fresh Air, NPR, 1990

To clarify, Steam was referring to Redding’s participation in the legendary Monterey Rock Festival, where he performed five songs on Saturday, June 17, 1967.

Dock of the Bay

You can watch the music video for Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding online.

Release and Achievements Dock of the Bay

The song was released as a single in January 1968. The audience, still shocked by Otis’ death, received the song very warmly. An extremely active rotation on well-known radio stations also helped to make the song a hit. It topped the Billboard Hot 100 and Rhythm & Blues Singles charts, and climbed to number three on the official UK charts.

Subsequently, the track was awarded two Grammy awards and entered several authoritative lists of the best compositions, including the top 500 according to Rolling Stone.

According to BMI, Dock of the Bay is the sixth most performed song in the twentieth century. Bob Dylan, Cher, Michael Bolton, Pearl Jam and many other famous musicians recorded cover versions.

Interesting Facts

  • The composition sounds in the film “Platoon” (Platoon).
  • The song was popular with American soldiers who took part in the Vietnam War.
  • There is a reference to Dock of the Bay in the track Running’ Blue by the rock band The Doors.

Otic Redding (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay Lyrics

Sittin’ in the mornin’ sun
I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ comes
Watchin’ the ships roll in
Then I watch ’em roll away again
I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Watchin’ the tide roll away
I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time

I left my home in Georgia
Headed for the Frisco Bay
‘Cause I had nothin’ to live for
It look like nothin’s gonna come my way
So I’m just goin’ sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Watchin’ the tide roll away
I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time

Look like nothin’s gonna change
Everything, still remains the same
I can’t do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I’ll remain the same, yes

Sittin’ here restin’ my bones
And this loneliness won’t leave me alone, yes
Two thousand miles, I roam
Just to make this dock my home
Now I’m just gonna sit at the dock of the bay
Watchin’ the tide roll away
Sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time

Otis Redding (Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay Lyrics

I’m sitting in the morning sun
I will sit here until the evening
Looking at the arriving ships
Then I watch them go back
I’m sitting on the harbor of the bay
Watching the water subside at low tide
I’m just sitting on the dock of the bay
killing time

I left home in Georgia
And headed for San Francisco Bay
Because I have nothing to live for
Looks like nothing will fall to my lot
So I’ll just sit on the dock of the bay
Watching the water subside at low tide
I’m sitting on the harbor of the bay
killing time

Looks like nothing will change
Everything stays the same
I can’t do what ten people tell me
So I guess I’ll stay the same, yeah

Sitting here resting my bones
And I’m not lonely alone, no
I walked two thousand miles
Just to make this jetty your home
Now I’ll be sitting on the dock of the bay
Watching the wave subside at low tide
I’m sitting on the harbor of the bay
killing time

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