(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay

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"(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay"
Single by Otis Redding
from the album The Dock of the Bay
B-side "Sweet Lorene" (Volt issue)
"Keep Your Arms Around Me" (Atco reissue)
Released January 8, 1968
Format Vinyl record
Recorded November 22 and December 7, 1967, Stax Studios, Memphis, Tennessee[1]
Genre Rhythm and blues, soul
Length 2:38
Label Volt/Atco
Writer(s) Steve Cropper
Otis Redding
Producer(s) Steve Cropper
Otis Redding singles chronology
"Knock on Wood" (with Carla Thomas)
"(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay"
"The Happy Song (Dum Dum)"
"(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay"
7" single cover
Single by Sammy Hagar
B-side "I've Done Everything for You"
Released 1979
Format 7" single
Recorded May 1979
Genre Rock
Length 3:03
Label Capitol
Writer(s) Steve Cropper
Otis Redding Barry Downey
Producer(s) Carter

"(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" is a song co-written by soul singer Otis Redding and guitarist Steve Cropper. It was recorded by Redding twice in 1967—once just days before his death in a December 10, 1967, plane crash. It was released after his death on Stax Records' Volt label in 1968,[2] becoming the first posthumous single to top the charts in the US.[3] It charted at number 3 on the UK Singles Chart.

Redding started writing the lyrics to the song in August 1967, while sitting on a rented houseboat in Sausalito, California. He completed the song with the help of Stax producer and Booker T and the M.G.'s guitarist Steve Cropper. The song features mimicked seagull whistles and sounds of the waves crashing on the shore.


While on tour with the Bar-Kays in August 1967, Redding wrote the first verse of the song, under the abbreviated title "Dock of the Bay," on a houseboat at Waldo Point in Sausalito, California.[1] He had completed his famed performance at the Monterey Pop Festival just months earlier, in June 1967. While touring in support of the albums King & Queen (collaborations with female vocalist Carla Thomas) and his live set Live in Europe, he continued to scribble lines of the song on napkins and hotel paper. In November of that year he joined producer and guitarist Steve Cropper at the Stax recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee.

In a 1990 interview on NPR's Fresh Air, Cropper explained the origins of the song:

Otis was the kind of guy who had 100 ideas. When in San Francisco staying on a houseboat and playing The Fillmore, and he was staying at a boathouse, which is where he got the idea of the ship coming in. That's about all he had: "I watch the ships come in and I watch them roll away again." I took that and finished the lyrics. If you listen to the songs I wrote with Otis, most of the lyrics are about him. He didn't usually write about himself, but I did. "Mr. Pitiful," "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)"; they were about Otis' life. "Dock of the Bay" was exactly that: "I left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay" was all about him going out to San Francisco to perform.[4]

Together, they completed the music and melancholy lyrics of "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." From those sessions emerged Redding's final recordings, including "Dock of the Bay," which was recorded on November 22, with additional overdubs on December 8.[1] Redding's restrained yet emotive delivery is backed by Cropper's memorably succinct guitar playing.[5] The song is somewhat different in style from most of Redding's other recordings.[1] While discussing his latest song with his wife, Redding stated that he wanted to "be a little different" with "The Dock of the Bay" and "change his style".[1] There were concerns that "The Dock of the Bay" had too much of a pop feel for an Otis Redding record, and contracting Stax gospel act The Staples Singers to record backing vocals was discussed, but never carried out.[1] The song features a machine sounding like the ocean waves, coming and going, as well as a familiar whistling tune heard before the song's fade, performed after Redding's death by his bandleader Sam "Bluzman" Taylor.[6][7][8] The original whistle was actually a mistake. During the recording session, Redding bumped the music stand, and the song lyrics fell to the floor. Because studio time was running out, Redding improvised, and it worked. The iconic whistle was then re-recorded for final version for release after Redding's death.[9]

Redding continued to tour after the recording sessions, and on December 10 his charter plane crashed into Lake Monona, outside Madison, Wisconsin. Redding and six others were killed. Redding's body was recovered from the lake the day after the crash.[10]

Cover versions[edit]

"The Dock of the Bay" has been immensely popular, even after its stay at the top of the charts. The song has come to represent the decade of its creation, and it has been covered by many artists, from his peers like Glen Campbell, Cher, Bob Dylan, Percy Sledge, Dee Clark, and Sam & Dave to artists of various genres, including Jimmy Velvit (whose cover version was included on his 2001 Grammy nominated album Sun Sea & Sand), Widespread Panic (opened New Year's Eve 2005 concert), Waylon Jennings & Willie Nelson, Kenny Rankin, Dennis Brown, Michel Pagliaro, Jacob Miller, Michael Bolton (whose version of the song reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1988), Pearl Jam, The Format, T. Rex (as a b-side of "Dreamy Lady" on March 11, 1975), Brent Smith of Shinedown (during an acoustic set in 2008) and Smith and Zach Myers (in a 2014 EP), Justin Nozuka (2007) and Sara Bareilles (2008). Playing for Change recorded a version featuring Grandpa Elliott, Roger Ridley, and other performers.

Sammy Hagar released a version of the song as a non-album single in 1979. His version features the song's co-writer Steve Cropper on guitar and members of the band Boston Brad Delp, Sib Hashian, and Barry Goudreau on backup vocals.[11] Producer Carter had the track recorded in May 1979 with Cropper, bassist Leland Sklar, and drummer Alvin Taylor. Later, he added Sammy's vocals with background harmonies by the three then-members of Boston, with whom Hagar had just toured.[12] Although the single was a modest hit for Hagar, he considered it a symptom of his producer Carter's efforts to manufacture a pop Top 40 hit despite Hagar's heavy metal inclinations.[11] Hagar and Cropper's work on the song was rated the 37th worst guitar solo in history by Pitchfork Media in 1998.[13] The song was not released on an album until 1992 when it appeared on The Best of Sammy Hagar. The b-side of Hagar's single was the first release of his studio version of "I've Done Everything for You".

In 2012, Hastings-based singer Davey Johnson, and Welsh star Noel Sullivan, former member of the group Hear'say both performed the song for their audition pieces on BBC 1's The Voice in 2012; neither made it to the Blind auditions. But this was not the case for the UK band The Mend, as the Manchester-based band (also in 2012) performed the song as their audition piece for the ITV Hit show Britain's Got Talent. They received a standing ovation for their performance and progressed to the next stage of the contest.[14]

Garth Brooks for the 2013 Blue-Eyed Soul album in the Blame It All on My Roots: Five Decades of Influences compilation.

Justin Timberlake covered the song for In Performance at The White House, in front of President Barack Obama.

Recently the song was covered by Chris Jamison on NBC's The Voice.


Redding's body of work at the time of his death was immense, including a backlog of archived recordings as well as those done in November and December 1967 just before his death. In mid-1968, Stax Records severed its distribution contract with Atlantic Records, who retained the label's back catalog and the rights to the unreleased Otis Redding masters.[15] Through its Atco subsidiary (Atco had distributed Otis Redding's releases from Stax's Volt label), Atlantic issued three more albums of new Redding material, one live album, and eight 45 RPM singles between 1968 and 1970.[15] Co-owned Reprise Records issued a live album with Redding and Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival. Both studio albums and anthologies sold well in America and abroad. Redding was especially successful in the United Kingdom, where The Dock of the Bay went to number one, becoming the first posthumous album to reach the top spot there.[16] and the following album, a greatest hits LP entitled History of Otis Redding, reached number one on the R&B charts and number nine on Billboard 200.[17]

In 1999, BMI named the song as the sixth-most performed song of the 20th century, with about six million performances.[18] Rolling Stone ranked Redding's album, The Dock of the Bay number 161 on its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, the third of five Redding albums that made the list. "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" was ranked 28th on Rolling Stone′s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, the second highest of four Redding songs on the list, after "Respect".[19]

Jim Morrison references "Dock of the Bay" in The Doors' song "Runnin' Blue" written by Robby Krieger from their 1969 album The Soft Parade. Morrison sings an a capella intro for the song, singing directly about Otis Redding. "Poor Otis dead and gone, left me here to sing his song, pretty little girl with a red dress on, poor Otis dead and gone." And during the verse, the lyrics "Got to find a dock and a bay" appear more than once; as well as several other references to Redding's song.


Many who first heard the final version had doubts about the song, the sound, and the direction. Among the skeptics were Phil Walden and Jim Stewart. Redding accepted some of the criticisms and fined tuned the song. He reversed the opening, which was Redding's whistling part and put it at the end as suggested. A few months before composition of Redding's most famous hit, British music magazine, "Melody Maker" named Otis Redding as the world's #1 vocalist. He dethroned Elvis Presley who had reigned for the previous ten years. "The Dock of the Bay" was released early in 1968 and topped the charts in the US and UK. Billboard ranked the record as the No. 4 song for 1968.[20]

On December 10, 1987, about 4,000 people gathered in Macon, Georgia, for a memorial service 20 years after Redding's death.

Geoff Brown said: "Dock of the Bay" is redolent of a period and a culture. But more than that, its mood of contemplation, its atmosphere of quiet yearning mixed with a generation-hopping favorite.

Universal success[edit]

"(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" was released in January 1968 amid the fall-out of Redding's death. R&B stations readily added the song to their playlists, which had been saturated with Redding's previous hits. The song shot to number one on the R&B charts in early 1968 and, from March, topped the pop charts for four weeks.[21] The album, which shared the song's title, was released and became his largest selling to date, peaking at number four on the Pop Albums chart.[17] "Dock of the Bay" went on to gain success in countries across the world, and brought Redding the greatest success of his career, selling more than four million copies worldwide and receiving more than eight million airplays.[22][23] The song went on to win two Grammy Awards: Best R&B Song and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.[24]

Chart history[edit]

Original version
Chart (1968) Peak
US Billboard Hot 100 1[17]
Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles 1[17]
UK Singles Chart 3[25]
Cover versions

In addition to the original Otis Redding version, several other versions have charted on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. King Curtis' version charted for five weeks from 9 March 1968 and peaked at #84 (during the same month the original was #1). A year later, Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66's version charted for five weeks from 28 June 1969 and peaked at #66. Sammy Hagar's version charted for five weeks from 7 April 1979 and peaked at #65. The Reddings, who included two of Otis Redding's sons, released a version which charted for nine weeks from 12 June 1982 and peaked at #55. Michael Bolton's rendition charted for 17 weeks from 23 January 1988 and peaked at #11 making it the highest charting version other than the original.[26]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Bowman, Rob (2007). Liner Notes for Dreams to Remember: The Otis Redding Story [DVD]. Beverly Hills, CA: Reelin' in the Years Productions/Concord Music Group.
  2. ^ Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 51 - The Soul Reformation: Phase three, soul music at the summit. [Part 7] : UNT Digital Library" (audio). Pop Chronicles. Digital.library.unt.edu. 
  3. ^ Rose Lichter-Marck (March 25, 2011). "The undying soul of Otis". The Daily Holdings, Inc. Retrieved May 13, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Dock of the Bay origin/meaning". Archived from the original on 11 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-01. 
  5. ^ Richie Unterberger. "Otis Redding – Biography". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved February 25, 2012. 
  6. ^ Bowman 1997, p. 134.
  7. ^ Sam Taylor obit
  8. ^ Sam Taylor provided the whistling
  9. ^ Steve Cropper, co-writer
  10. ^ Guralnick 1999, p. 394–395.
  11. ^ a b Hagar, Sammy; Selvin, Joel (2011). Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock. HarperCollins. p. 77. ISBN 0-06-200928-1. 
  12. ^ Liner notes. Sammy Hagar. The Best of Sammy Hagar. Capitol CDP 0777 7 80262 2 8. 1992.(
  13. ^ Michael Sandlin. "Top 50 Worst Guitar Solos of the Millennium". Reprint of "Top 50 Worst Guitar Solos in Music History". Pitchfork Media. 28 October 1998. Archived January 25, 2006 at the Wayback Machine
  14. ^ "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" - The Mend perform live on Britain's Got Talent (UK) (Video). YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cijh19z1geY
  15. ^ a b Bowman, Rob (1997). Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records. New York: Schirmer Trade. ISBN 0-8256-7284-8. Pg. 138-142
  16. ^ "1968 Top 40 Official UK Albums Archive 22nd June 1968". London: The Official Charts Company. 2010. Retrieved October 19, 2011. 
  17. ^ a b c d "Otis Redding – Charts & Awards". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved February 25, 2012. 
  18. ^ "BMI Announces Top 100 Songs of the Century". at BMI.com. 13 December 1999. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  19. ^ "The RS 500 Greatest Songs of All Time". RollingStone.com. Archived from the original on 16 May 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-02. 
  20. ^ Billboard Year-End Hot 100 singles of 1968
  21. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 486. 
  22. ^ Otfinoski 2003, p. 194.
  23. ^ "Honors". Otis Redding Official Website. Retrieved October 13, 2011. 
  24. ^ "1968 Grammy Award Winners". Grammy.com. Retrieved 1 May 2011. 
  25. ^ "Artist Chart History - Otis Redding". The Official UK Charts Company. Retrieved July 5, 2012. 
  26. ^ Joel Whitburn. Joel Whitburn's Top Pop Singles: 1955-2002. Record Research, 2004.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Love is Blue" by Paul Mauriat
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
March 16, 1968
Succeeded by
"Honey" by Bobby Goldsboro
Preceded by
"We're a Winner" by The Impressions
Billboard Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles number one single
March 16–30, 1968
Succeeded by
"(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone" by Aretha Franklin