Saturday, December 22, 2018

Certain Songs #1407: Otis Redding – “I’m Sick Y’all” | Medialoper

Album: Complete and Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul
Year: 1966

Most of the Otis Redding songs I’ve been writing about have fallen into two camps: slow sad torch ballads or uptempo soul stompers, but “I’m Sick Y’all” falls into a third camp: down and dirty funk, like what was coming from James Brown.

That Redding had heard the sea change that Brown was cooking up was unmistakable: he covered “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” during his historic Whisky-A-Go-Go gigs just prior to the recording of this record, and just as he had previously done with Sam Cooke, he incorporated it into his music. So the the songs he recorded in 1966 & 1967 were often definitely funkier than what he’d done previously.

That said, for the most part, Otis wasn’t as interested in the funky grooves as an end to themselves, as Brown was; rather he was more interested in how to contain funky grooves in the shorter, more concise songs he was writing.

So “I’m Sick Y’all” starts with the horn section establishing themselves, before settling into its initial groove: an interchange between Al Jackson, Jr’s snare drum and Booker T. Jones’s organ, with Isaac Hayes dancing around it with an almost barrelhouse piano. Over this, Otis sings one of darker lyrics of his entire career.

Lord, pain in my heart workin’
Dragging my feet, y’all
Twelve long days, children
Had a bite to eat now

Y’all wanna know, yeah
Tell me what’s wrong with me
Said I’ve been sick, y’all, yeah
Tell you I’m sick, y’all, yeah

That said, you’d be forgiven if you didn’t really notice the lyrics: Otis is mixed really really really low, and so you can’t really tell what he’s singing. Though you can tell that “I’m Sick Y’all” doesn’t really have verses or choruses, just Otis rambling the whole time about how sick he his.

At some point, everybody else lays out as Jackson slams his snare drum, then breaks down as Duck Dunn switches the song with a circular bass riff that the horns augment and Jackson circles around it while Otis just keeps muttering in his delirium:

Feel like I got a headache
Right here in my side
Heart’s turning over
Beating like a drum, y’all
Tom tom tom, yeah
Heart’s keep a beating, baby

Now what’s wrong with me
Tell y’all I’m sick, y’all
Said I’m sick, y’all
Got me in a terrible shape
But nobody’s got to
Get me off this shape

After this, Jackson slams his his snare 7 more times and they all slide back into the original groove, Otis just getting sicker and sicker all along, though probably not so sick that he doesn’t notice Jackson slipping in some “two times!” double backbeat during the closing section, driving “I’m Sick Y’all” to its fade-out.

“I’m Sick Y’all”

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