Runnin’ Otis Blue

Otis Redding defined authenticity.

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I have been inspired by the music of Otis Redding for a long time. I consider him one of my primary influences as a singer, alongside Ray Charles and Jim Morrison. I have also lived in Madison, the city where Redding met his tragic end, for most of my life. Yet until about a year ago, I hadn’t heard of the Monona Terrace memorial that bears his name. Once I learned of its existence, I naturally had to go see it for myself, to pay my respects and to grasp this thin connection I had to one of the greatest singers that ever lived. So I took the bus down to the Capitol one afternoon, wandered around aimlessly until I found the Terrace, and searched for quite a while around the area, not exactly sure what the memorial looked like or where it would be. I was about to give up my manhood and actually ask someone where it was when finally I found it, on a stone tucked away on the left side of the rooftop, overlooking the waters where the plane crashed and Redding took his last breath.

Redding’s legacy goes well beyond the words on this tablet. More than anything, Redding was an example of authenticity in a genre that struggled at times with the concept. He was the star of Stax Records, a label of gritty southern soul that stood in stark contrast to the polished R&B of Motown. He wrote many of his own songs, which was almost unheard of for soul singers. And his singing style was as authentic as they come, with a plaintive, nervous timbre that both shouted and whimpered to words that were frequently improvised and sometimes made up entirely (we may never know what a “yessiram” is). It wasn’t always pretty, but it was never phoned in or gussied up. Redding was shy and inexperienced, the opposite of a showman, which gave his performances a sense of both innocence and legitimacy. The man tried because he couldn’t afford not to.
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When he wrote “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay,” Redding predicted it would be his first #1 hit, despite his bandmates’ disapproval of the song. Redding was right: the song went to the top of the US charts after his death, becoming the first posthumous single to do so. The song’s lyrics are also chillingly prophetic, describing a dismayed concession to fate at the water’s edge. Three days after Redding finished recording it, he was gone, disappearing into the waters of Lake Monona. He was 26 years old.

Here are five of Redding’s most enduring hits:

“These Arms of Mine”

Redding surprised the head of Stax Records with this original ballad during a recording session for Redding’s friend Johnny Jenkins. The song got Redding signed to the Stax label.

“Respect”

It might come as a surprise to some that Redding wrote this song as a man’s plea for recognition two years before Aretha Franklin flipped the perspective and turned it into a feminist anthem.

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Redding took this traditional pop standard and gave it the “Stairway to Heaven” treatment, with a slow beginning that picks up speed until it hits a frenzied climax.

“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”

Redding was inspired by the Beatles when he wrote his signature song, as evidenced by its unusual melody and maritime sound effects. Recorded three days before his death, it provides a glimpse into the direction that Redding might have gone had he lived.

“Hard to Handle”

This Redding original is probably best known for the Black Crowes’ cover, which is a shame, as Redding’s version is a fiery funk-soul classic. The intro also lent itself to one of the best samples of all time in Marley Marl’s “The Symphony.”

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Remember, no matter what genre you’re into, WUD Music has you covered. Like us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter (@WUDmusic) to stay up to date on all the artists and bands playing the Rathskeller, the Terrace, or the Sett each week.

The Undisputed Earth Mother

Forget Whitney, Aretha and certainly Beyonce –Etta James was the true queen of R&B.

In early 2009, Etta James made the headlines in a quite bizarre fashion. Upset that Beyonce had sung James’ signature song, “At Last,” at Obama’s inauguration, James made her opinion of the R&B diva very clear, saying that she “can’t stand Beyonce” and that “she gonna get her ass whupped.” Adding to the awkwardness of the situation, Beyonce had recently played Etta James in Cadillac Records, and the two singers had been seen getting along swimmingly at the film’s premiere. James’ remarks came off as petty jealousy, and James herself later apologized. But whether the diss was prompted by jealousy, alcohol, or James’ struggle with dementia, the fact remains that James had every reason to be mad.

Because Beyonce is no Etta James. Nor, for that matter, is anyone else.

From her early success with rock and roll and doo-wop to her later contributions to jazz, blues, and soul music, Etta James spread her talent across many genres and remained consistently dynamite throughout, making her case as the greatest female singer that ever lived. Her emotional range, which could go from volcanic roar to seductive purr, influenced singers from Janis Joplin to Adele. Though often overlooked during her career, James always wowed the critics, and her 1960 album At Last! is now considered among the greatest of all time. After taking the 80’s off (a wise decision), James returned in the 90’s, recording multiple award-winning albums.

Alas, Etta James is no longer with us–she died last year at the age of 73–and Beyonce’s finely-toned ass remains un-whupped. But that strange episode was classic Etta–fiery and audacious, with the type of swagger that Beyonce only wishes she could evoke. That brief conflict between old R&B royalty and new served as a reminder that the torch does not always stay lit when passed.

We miss you, Etta.

Here are some of Etta James’ finest songs:

“At Last”

Originally performed by Glenn Miller in 1941, James delivered a definitive cover of what would become her signature song on her masterpiece debut album, At Last!

“Something’s Got a Hold on Me”

Does that intro sound familiar?  It should; it’s been sampled by multiple artists in recent years, and James’ distinctive vocal is now a party staple. The rest of the song is classic as well.

“If I Can’t Have You”

In this raw duet with Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows, James lets loose and challenges the doo-wop singer to keep up. The result brings out the best of both artists.

“I’d Rather Go Blind”

Written by James’ friend Ellington “Fugi” Jordan while he was in prison, this soulful ballad has become a blues standard, covered by everybody from B.B. King to Rod Stewart.

“Good Rockin’ Daddy”

One of James’ first hits, this jumper shows her connection to early rock and roll and provides a glimpse into the development of her later style.

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Remember, no matter what genre you’re into, WUD Music has you covered. Like us on Facebook and/or follow us on Twitter (@WUDmusic) to stay up to date on all the artists and bands playing the Rathskeller, the Terrace, or the Sett each week.

Charlie Brooks and The Way It Is on The Terrace

What’s up, Madtown? Let us explain why you should be on the Terrace this Friday. Charlie Brooks and The Way It Is will be performing an entire show, starting at 9:30 and in order to appreciate their R&B and soul music, you must be present.

Charlie Brooks and The Way It Is have certainly made an impression on every crowd they have performed for. Their classy dress and comedic banter with the crowd add to their already stellar R&B music. Even more impressive are the bands that they have opened and played with through the years, including Sly & The Family Stone, The Temptations, and even Ray Charles.

When they start playing their Motown sound songs such as classics “Brick House” and “Mustang Sally,” all that a person can do is get up and start dancing. Charlie Brooks’ voice is also not completely overpowering, meaning we can also enjoy the soul coming from the other members, which include Steve Skaggs, Joe Wickam, Dave Goblin, Nathan Merone K, Eric Koppa, Darren Sterud, and Mike Bowman.

So this Friday, come feel the soul in you as Charlie Brooks and The Way It Is takes over the Terrace stage. Check out their take on “Brick House” below.

This Friday: Kids These Days w/ Fresh Cut Collective at The Sett, 9 p.m.

Someday, Kids These Days will out-grow their name, and it seems that day is quickly approaching. The Chicago natives possess talent and maturity well beyond their years, a group of six men and one woman all under the age of 20. How many 20-year-olds do you know that have shared the stage with Snoop Dogg, played to an endless sea of fans at Lollapalooza, and recorded an album with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy producing?

KTD is diverse in every way, blending funk, soul, hip-hop, acoustic rock, and rap to create something truly original. There’s something for everyone, which is why they regularly sell out shows in Chicago and have played with a vast array of popular artists. They attract extremely energetic crowds with their own energy, giving the feeling that each concert is a party. Believe me, this Friday’s show will be a party – and a free one at that!

The action starts at 9 p.m. when Fresh Cut Collective takes the stage, a Milwaukee band that won a WAMI award this year for the best Hip-Hop/Rap act in the state of Wisconsin. That’s no small feat, my friends. They’re an excellent complement to the energy and uniqueness of Kids These Days.

Head to the Facebook event and KTD and FCC‘s band pages for more details. Check out some videos of each band below for a taste of what you can expect to see Friday night.

This Saturday in Der Rathskeller: Memoryhouse

Picture from Pitchfork

Come see Memoryhouse, The Loom and Cat Martino this Saturday in the Der Rathskeller at 9:30 PM!

Memoryhouse, a dreampop ensamble from Sub Pop Records, is currently in the final stages of production for their first LP after a September release of a fully re-recorded, remixed and re-mastered version of their EP, The Years. If you haven’t yet, check out the dreamy sound of Memoryhouse in the video below.

The show will kick off with indie-folk songstress Cat Martino, who has opened for the likes of Rufus Wainwright, RIDE frontman Mark Gardener, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and more.


Yr Not Alone – Cat Martino 

Following, WUD Music is proud to bring the Brooklyn-based indie-rock band, The Loom to Madison. NPR‘s World Cafe assures us that they’re sure to put on an “electrifying onstage performance that combines lots of instruments and lots of chemistry, and now lots of buzz as well,” according to an article released just this month. Check out their sound below:

See you Saturday!

Tonight in The Sett: Charlie Brooks and The Way It Is, DMF With Nick Nice

Were you born in the wrong era? Do you long to live in the days where you could take a stroll in Motown and run into Barry Gordy, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, or Diana Ross? How about the 70’s – do you find wish you could have seen Lou Rawls live or have a strong urge to “stay together” with Al Green? Charlie Brooks and The Way It Is are the answer to your prayers, and lucky for you their home is in Madtown rather than Motown. Soulful guitar solos, horn sections, and hammond organs are still alive, and this band is evidence.

Charlie Brooks has established himself amongst the finest names of his Motown and soul, having shared bills with Sly and the Family Stone, Percy Sledge, Chicago, Ray Charles, The Supremes, and The Temptations. You know he’s got to have soul to find himself in that kind of company. He’s proof that there are those of us that know the best way to keep our feet warm in this town known for its frigid weather is to dance.

The dancing doesn’t end with Charlie Brooks and Co., either, as Nick Nice will be back yet again to spin songs of a more contemporary nature at DNCE MTHR FCKR at midnight. It’ll be a cool opportunity to witness the evolution of dance music, all while burning some calories. So get yourself to The Sett on Friday to see some local legends do what they do best: get you out of your seats and having a good time.