Last Wednesday afternoon, I paid homage to Otis Redding and sat on the dock of the bay, except it wasn’t “the ‘Frisco Bay;” it was the bay in the Southwest corner.
In case you haven’t noticed, I am a hopeless romantic. Fortunately, I have been aware of this wonderful mindset or terrible malady (you choose) since sometime in college.
That was also about the time I was introduced to Otis Redding, although I don’t think there is necessarily a connection between Otis and my romantic tendencies.
I was matriculating from Castle Heights to Vanderbilt when I first heard an Otis song. While at Vanderbilt and Middle Tennessee, I saw him perform in Nashville about half a dozen times. I was mesmerized every time. I also played his songs every chance I got on WCOR. I worked for the station while commuting to MTSU as the FM evening announcer and the “weekend warrior” deejay Saturday and Sunday afternoons on the daytime only station, then 900 on your AM dial.
Ted Ezell and Jack Hendrickson hired me after my mother discovered they were looking for another deejay. Coleman Walker was the station manager and on the air the majority of the time. Clyde Harville had just arrived and was the country music deejay and becoming the quintessential Lebanon sports broadcaster. Bobby Rochelle and John Jewell were also deejays like me.
I was in my early twenties, and therefore thought I knew more than anyone else in the world. One of my convictions was the standard rock and roll music of the day was not that good, and I despised “bubble gum” music as I called it, such as Petula Clark’s “Downtown” and Bobby Vee’s “Rubber Ball.” But I was a fanatic blues fan, and Otis was a crossover between the two. Even though my weekend shows required playing a preponderance of “bubble gum” music, I snuck in as many “rhythm and blues” 45 RPMs as I could.
Fortunately, Motown music had become a big favorite, and Aretha Franklin had hit the scene big time. Of course, the English bands had also become the rage, especially the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
But Otis was my favorite.
Then in September 1967, I went to Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island where my roommate was George “Doc” Jarden, a Duke graduate and Philadelphia native. We hit it off immediately and discovered we both liked Otis.
Somehow, we managed to smuggle a “portable” record player into our barracks room and hide it in our locker. During evening CQ (Call to Quarters) for studying, we would pull out the record player and play a few albums. The album, “The History of Otis Redding,” a compilation of his hits was released in November, and we bought it on weekend liberty as soon as it was available.
A month after that album was released, Otis died in plane crash near Madison, Wis., Sunday, December 10, 1967. Doc and I heard the news the next day. When CQ rolled around that night, Doc and i surreptitiously brought out the record player and Otis’s album. We held our own wake for Otis, listening to his album until about 0400 before some quick shut-eye and 0600 reveille.
“Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay” was released posthumously and became Otis’ biggest hit. The song was a significant departure from Otis’ other songs. Otis wanted to expand his repertoire. This song was to be his first of his transformation from the old Otis. It turned out to also be his last.
I think Otis really caught the same feelings on his visit to San Francisco earlier in 1967 as I had on my first Navy cruise as a NROTC midshipman in 1963. The sea captured my heart somewhere in the Atlantic. “Dock of the Bay” eventually became my sea song.
Last Wednesday, as I walked the old creosote pier under the bridge, I considered what the song signified. I sat down on a pallet stack at the end of the pier and reflected on the ports and the adventures I experienced on the sea and marveled that this old pier was most likely my last connection to the sea I loved. I also considered I was a bit like Otis in his song, “3000 miles from home.”
Jim Jewell, a retired Navy commander lives in San Diego but was raised in Lebanon. His book, A Pocket of Resistance: Selected Poems, is now available through Author House, Amazon and Barnes and Noble online. Jim’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org.