The Story of... 'Dock of the Bay' by Otis Redding

15 July 2020, 17:01

Otis Redding
Otis Redding. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Otis Redding's relaxing classic '(Sittin' on the) Dock of the Bay' still sounds incredible over 50 years later, but it has a tragic story behind it.

Here are all the fascinating facts behind the iconic song:

  1. Who wrote 'Dock of the Bay'?

    The song was written by Otis Redding alongside Steve Cropper, a guitarist and member of Booker T and the MGs, and later a member of the Blues Brothers band.

    While touring with the Bar-Kays in August 1967, Redding wrote the first verse of the song, while on a houseboat at Waldo Point in Sausalito, California.

    He continued to scribble lines of the song on napkins and various bits of hotel paper. In November 1967, he joined Steve Cropper at the Stax recording studio in Memphis to record the song.

  2. What inspired the song?

    In 1990, Cropper said of the song's creation: "Otis was one of those the kind of guys who had 100 ideas. The story that I got he was renting boathouse or stayed at a boathouse or something and that's where he got the idea of the ships coming in the bay there. And that's about all he had.

    "'I watch the ships come in and I watch them roll away again'. I just took that... and I finished the lyrics. If you listen to the songs I collaborated with Otis, most of the lyrics are about him.

    Houseboat
    Picture: Getty

    "Otis didn't really write about himself but I did. Songs like 'Mr. Pitiful', 'Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)'; they were about Otis and 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."

    While discussing the song with his wife, Redding stated that was looking to "be a little different", and "change his style". There had been concerns from his record company that 'Dock of the Bay' was too poppy for an Otis Redding song, and there was talk of gospel act the Staple Singers singing backing vocals.

  3. Otis Redding died soon after recording the song

    Otis Redding
    Otis Redding. Picture: Getty

    Otis Redding didn't think the song was ready, but sadly he never got the chance to finish it in the way he had hoped.

    The song features a whistled tune before fading away. It was originally performed by Redding. Cropper said Redding had "this little fadeout rap he was gonna do, an ad-lib. He forgot what it was so he started whistling."

    On December 10, just days after recording the song, his plane crashed into Lake Monona, outside Madison, Wisconsin. Redding and six others were killed. He was aged just 26.

    After Redding's death, Cropper mixed finished the song at Stax Studios. He added the sound of seagulls and waves to the background, as Redding had requested.

  4. How did it perform in the charts?

    '(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay' was released in January 1968, soon after Redding's death.

    The song topped the US chart in March 1968, and its album Dock of the Bay became his largest-selling so far. The track became the first ever posthumous #1 single in the US.

    It became Redding's most successful record worldwide, selling over four million copies.

    It also won two Grammy Awards: Best R&B Song and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. In 1999, BMI named the song as the sixth-most performed song of the 20th century.

  5. Who else has covered it?

    Many artists have covered the song, including:

    - Michael Bolton

    - Peggy Lee

    - Percy Sledge

    - Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings

    - Sammy Hagar

    - Marc Bolan

    - Sara Bareilles

  6. What are the 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 sittin' on the dock of the bay
    Wastin' time

    I left my home in Georgia
    And I headed for the Frisco Bay
    'Cause I've got nothin' to live for
    Looks like nothin's gonna come my way, so

    I'm just come sittin' on the dock of the bay
    Watchin' the tide roll away
    I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay, wastin' time

    Looks like nothin's gonna change
    Everything seems to stay the same
    I can't do what ten people tell me to do
    So I guess I'll remain the same

    I'm sittin' here restin' my bones
    And this loneliness won't leave me alone
    This two thousand miles I roamed
    Just to make this dock my home
    Now I'm just sittin' on the dock of the bay

    Watchin' the tide roll away
    Sittin' on the dock of the bay
    I'm wastin' time