January 4, 2013


Then I Watch 'Em Roll Away Again (MARC MYERS, 1/03/13, WSJ)

Mr. Cropper, pianist Booker T. Jones, trumpeter Wayne Jackson and Mr. Cauley recalled how the song was written and recorded, why sounds of surf and gulls were added, and the story behind Redding's famed whistling. Edited from interviews:

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

Usually when Otis came to town, he waited until he checked into the Holiday Inn before calling 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'm coming right over."

When Otis walked in, he said, "Crop, get your gut-tar." I always kept a Gibson B-29 around. He grabbed it, tuned it to an open E-chord, which made the guitar easier to play slide. Then Otis played and sang a verse he had written: 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.

I said, "Otis, hold on. If a ship rolls, it will take on water and sink." He said, "That's what I want, Crop." So we let it go and worked on the rest of the song.

Otis told me he had started writing the song while playing in San Francisco. Producer Bill Graham must have let him stay on his houseboat in Sausalito, because Neil Young told me he had stayed on the boat right after Otis had left to come back East.

When Otis and I finished writing the rest of the song's music and lyrics, I arranged the song and we scheduled studio time. On the date, I was on acoustic guitar, [Donald] Duck Dunn on bass, Al Jackson on drums, Booker on piano, Wayne Jackson on trumpet and two other horns.

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Posted by at January 4, 2013 5:10 AM

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