Have you ever wondered what dock Otis Redding was singing about in (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay? There’s a line in the song that might give it away.
I left my home in Georgia Headed for the Frisco Bay
San Francisco is sometimes called Frisco. Even so, it’s a big city with a vast bay.
We scoured the Internet to learn more about this great oldie’s origins and the man known to some as the King of Soul.
Let’s dive in!
Who Originally Wrote The Dock of the Bay?
Otis Ray Redding Jr. was born in Dawson, Georgia, on September 9, 1941. He was the fourth oldest of six children.
The Redding family moved to Macon, Georgia, when Otis Jr. was three years old. It was here that Otis found his love of music. He sang in the Vineville Baptist Church choir and learned to play guitar and piano.
Otis attended Ballard-Hudson High School and sang in the school’s band. He had honed his singing skills through lessons he started at age 10. In his teens, Otis sang gospel songs on the local radio station every Sunday and received $6 each week.
Early influencers on Redding’s singing and musical style included Little Richard and Sam Cooke. In fact, Otis would join Little Richard’s band, The Upsetters, in the late 1950s. Redding even became the lead singer for the band after Richard left to focus on gospel music.
Fate Lends a Hand
Redding joined a different band, The Pinetoppers, in the early 1960s. Blues guitarist Johnny Jenkins hired Redding as a singer and personal driver since he didn’t have a license. In 1962, Jenkins was invited to a recording session at Stax Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, and asked Otis to drive him.
This trip proved to be a turning point in Otis Redding’s musical career. Backed by Booker T. and the M.G.s, Jenkins’ session wasn’t very productive. However, Stax executives invited Otis to perform two songs. He first sang Hey Hey Baby, followed by These Arms of Mine. It was the second tune that most impressed Jim Stewart, co-founder of Stax Records.
A Musical Sensation
Stewart soon signed Otis to his first recording contract. Otis released his first single, These Arms of Mine, in October 1962. It reached #20 on the Billboard R&B Singles chart. This initial success launched Redding’s musical career and led him on the path to greatness.
Two years later, in 1964, Volt Records released Redding’s debut album Pain in My Heart. Between 1964 and 1966, Redding recorded four more albums and released numerous hit singles.
His songs were popular among blues fans, plus many did well on pop music charts. Respect, released in 1965, was one of those songs. It reached #35 on the Billboard Top 100. Aretha Franklin released her version of the song two years later and turned it into an even bigger hit.
Redding turned heads and wowed audiences everywhere he played. In December 1966, he played a run of shows at the famed Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco.
Music promoter Bill Graham said it was “the best gig I ever put on in my whole life.” The opening acts were The Grateful Dead and Country Joe & The Fish. Can you even imagine being at that momentous show?
Otis Redding played a set at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. His performance has gone down in musical history as one of the most electrifying sets of the whole festival. It also introduced Redding to an entirely new audience. Most attendees at the festival were young white hippies who had never heard him before.
By this point, Otis Redding had already been named the King of Soul. His singing was emotional and powerful. Having played to a wider audience, his popularity was on the rise.
An Untimely Death
At what seemed to be the height of his career, Otis Redding died in a plane crash on December 10, 1967. He was only 26 years old. Most of his backing band were on the same flight and died when the plane crashed in a Wisconsin lake.
Zelma Redding, who Otis married in 1961, carries on her husband’s legacy with The Otis Redding Foundation, founded in 2007. The Foundation provides support and education to youth interested in music education. As far back as 1963, Otis provided scholarships to help young people continue their education and fulfill their dreams.
Posthumously, Redding received two Grammy Awards in 1969 for (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay. Additionally, in 1989, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He also earned the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999.
How Did Redding Create The Dock of the Bay?
A few months after his momentous Monterey Pop Festival performance, Redding began writing the lyrics to Dock of the Bay. During a tour stop in the San Francisco Bay Area, he rented a houseboat from Bill Graham.
Otis walked out to the end of the dock, found a comfortable place to sit, and started scribbling notes. According to Redding’s writing collaborator Steve Cropper, he wrote at least the first verse that morning on the Sausalito dock:
Sittin' in the mornin' sun I'll be sittin' when the evenin' come Watching the ships roll in And then I watch 'em roll away again, yeah
Redding wrote the remainder of the song at Stax Records with Cropper.
Otis was known for ad-libbing the end of songs. The Dock of the Bay is an excellent example of that. The song’s end includes one of the most famous recorded whistling in music history. Otis intended to finish the piece differently, but Cropper decided it was the perfect ending, so they kept it in.
In the month following Redding’s death, Cropper finished mixing The Dock of the Bay. During recording sessions, Otis suggested adding the sound of seagulls and waves crashing. Cropper dubbed these sounds into the final mix.
(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay was released January 8, 1968, and reached #1 on multiple US music charts. It was also a Top 10 hit in South Africa, New Zealand, and Canada.
Who First Recorded The Dock of the Bay?
Otis Redding and his backing band, Booker T. & the M.G.’s recorded the song at Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee. They recorded the song twice, the last time being just three days before the fateful plane crash.
Even after the second recording, Otis didn’t consider the song finished. He felt it had too much of a pop sound to it. He had intentions to record a third version. However, that never came to be.
So, Where is The Dock of the Bay?
I left my home in Georgia Headed for the 'Frisco bay 'Cause I've had nothing to live for And look like nothin's gonna come my way
The inspirational location of this dock is in Sausalito, California, about 10 miles north of San Francisco. It’s still there and is known as the Commodore Seaplane Slip.
What Popular Covers Are There of the Song?
Nearly 300 versions of (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay exist. Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Pearl Jam, Sting, and Cher are just a few famous artists who’ve honored Redding by performing his song.
Singer Sammy Hagar recorded his version in 1979. Redding’s writing partner Steve Cropper played guitar, and members of the band Boston contributed to Hagar’s cover.
Singer Michael Bolton’s cover may be one of the most well-known versions. He recorded the song for his 1987 album The Hunger. Bolton’s version hit #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart when released as a single.
Even Otis Redding’s widow, Zelma, was impressed with Bolton’s rendition of The Dock of the Bay. She said, “It brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me so much of my husband that I know if he heard it, he would feel the same.”
Singing with Soul on The Dock of the Bay
(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay is arguably one of the greatest soul oldies ever recorded. Otis Redding’s legacy is likely to outlive most of us, which says a lot about this man’s incredible talent. We’ll remember his contribution to music history for many years to come.