Augmented on this occasion by another reedman Gilbert Cable, they can be heard kicking off Otis Redding’s 1966 smash Try A Little Tenderness which end-of-line clothing retailer TK Maxx licensed for its Christmas 2012 campaign.
You might think that it was Otis himself who came up with the Salvation Army-style theme which makes the bittersweet intro to this classic so instantly recognizable. After all, as soul lore would have it, the big man had an irritating habit of telling his horn players what to play and even poked fun at himself for doing exactly that in the lyrics to his earlier hit Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song).
But it was the late legendary Isaac Hayes who deserves the credit for the strangely Christmassy four bar passage – a subtle adaptation of a syrupy string line lifted from Sam Cook’s posthumous 1964 single A Change Is Gonna Come – which ended up at the top of Try A Little Tenderness.
Hayes was house producer at Stax studios in September 1966 when Otis and the Booker T boys came in to cut tracks for inclusion on what would be the Complete and Unbelievable: Dictionary Of Soul LP.
His suggestion – as well as some strategically-placed piano chords – served to sprinkle an extra little bit of stardust onto a song written in the early 1930s by two British lyricists Jimmy Campbell and Reg Connelly (whose catalogue included evergreens like Show Me The Way To Go Home and Goodnight Sweetheart) and an American tunesmith named Harry Woods who was responsible for When The Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbing Along among dozens of other well-worn standards.
Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Aretha Franklin had all recorded Tenderness… before Otis took it to number 25 in the Billboard charts on Volt and number 46 in the UK where it appeared on the Atlantic imprint. The list of those who have covered the song since goes on forever.The voice on Southern Comfort’s latest TV commercial – in which a portly middle-aged man in unbecoming swimming trunks and strange shoes strides purposefully along a beach holding a glass of whiskey – is less well-known. Which is sad given that its owner, Odetta Holmes, was variously cited by Bob Dylan as the reason he became a folk singer, hailed by Joan Baez as a ‘goddess’ and generally regarded as one of the lynchpins of the Civil Rights Movement in America during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Odetta, who never stopped working and campaigning until her death in 2008 aged 78, was born in Birmingham Alabama and was a big woman with an even bigger voice – as clips included in Martin Scorcese’s Bob Dylan documentary No Direction Home attest. But, despite recording a clutch of influential blues and jazz albums for labels like Fantasy, Vanguard and RCA, the closest she came to the charts was a tongue-in-cheek duet with Harry Belafonte on My Bucket’s Got A Hole In It in 1961, which went to number 32 in Britain, after becoming a big Children’s Family Favourite.
For its new ad, Southern Comfort has turned to a self-penned track called Hit Or Miss which was one of only two originals on a 1970 Polydor LP entitled Odetta Sings. In what was clearly a bold attempt by producer John Boylan to break her through to the new rock generation, Odetta was joined in the studio by superstar sessioneers such as Carol King, Barry Beckett, Roger Hawkins, Russ Kunkel and Bernie Leadon and given songs to sing by Elton John, Randy Newman, Paul McCartney, James Taylor and The Stones.
Unfortunately the project flopped with, to our knowledge, only the decidedly downhome Hit Or Miss released as a 45, while the album itself was soon deleted and is still unavailable. How Southern Comfort got to pick up on it is unclear, but its appearance on Tom Jones’ recent Spirit In The Room CD might just have something to do with it.
Last but by no means least this month comes Get Together, a paean to peace and love by New York folk rockers The Youngbloods led by Jesse Colin Young. This reached number 5 in the US in 1969, two years after it was first released by RCA and is the track that KFC has been using to promote its new Mint Aero Krushems smoothie drink.The song was written in 1964 by one Chet Powers (better known as the Dino Valenti who sang with San Fransisco’s Quicksilver Messenger Service) and was a hit waiting to happen from the off. It was recorded almost immediately for an album by The Kingston Trio, followed in swift succession by long lost SF folk group We Five, songstress Judy Collins and proto-acid rockers Jefferson Airplane long before The Youngbloods – produced by Cream’s collaborator Felix Pappalardi – got their hands on it. Meanwhile a young Joni Mitchell included it in early live sets and The Dave Clark Five took it to number 8 in Britain in March 1970, under the new name of Let’s Get Together.
Whatever you want to call it, Together… has subsequently become something of an anthem for the American Left – to the extent that many US radio stations banned the song for being ‘unpatriotic’ in the months immediately following the 9/11 disaster!