Where Otis Redding wrote “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” is one of the more controversial music topics I’ve seen since we’ve moved out to San Francisco Bay Area.
Here’s the answer as best as I can find. So far:
Otis Redding wrote the first verse of “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” on concert promoter Bill Graham’s housebout in Sausalito, CA in late summer 1967 while on a break during the “King & Queen” tour. When Otis got back to Memphis, Tennessee, he and Steve Cropper finalized the second and third verses at Stax studios.
The updated source to that answer:
I got that answer from Steve Cropper himself, song co-writer and producer. He also produced the album, “The Dock of the Bay.” Cropper stated the fact while guest appearing on The Rolling Stones Ronnie Wood’s YouTube Channel.
“He [Otis Redding] wrote the song, or started it, in Bill Graham’s boathouse in Sausalito.”
– Steve Cropper
“Wow. I remember the fish & chip bar over there.” – Ronnie Wood
“And the rest of it, I helped him write it. I wrote about him.” – Crop
Here’s the interview:
It’s amazing that after all this time, Crop cops to the location. I validated the September 18th, 1990 NPR “A Fresh Aire” link Wikipedia used for the song history. In this earlier interview, never said which houseboat. Take a listen:
“Why does it matter which houseboat Otis wrote “Dock of the Bay?“”
Well, most importantly, we want to know for history’s sake. We want to get a glimpse into what Otis was seeing and feeling while the lyrics were coming to him. Being within his muse, so to speak.
The second reason is because there are about three Sausalito houseboats out here who claim their boat was where Otis Wrote the timeless classic. I got tipped off to this back in 2015 when Katie and I were on AirBNB looking for houseboats to rent in Sausalito. One of the owners noted to be cautious because of the tourist-trap scenario.
The Marin Scope, a local newspaper out here, also looked to track it down back in 2010.
The Marin Scope got the answer from a familiar source, Jonathan Gould, the writer of the definitive Otis Redding biography: “Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life.” Gould emailed in and pointed out that the suggestion to stay on a houseboat was probably Bill Graham’s because of Graham’s fascination with Redding.
Cobbling the sources together.
The published dates of the sources are 6 days apart: First the Gould letter, then the Cropper interview. There’s a chance Gould might have influenced Cropper’s memory, thus the variation from the 1990 interview he gave “A Fresh Aire.” It also could have gone the other way: Cropper could have tipped off Gould during Gould’s biography research.
…Or any one of 100,000 things that could have happened.
Add to that fact that, per Cropper’s “A Fresh Aire” interview, Redding had just finished giving a performance at the Fillmore in San Francisco before sneaking over The Frisco Bay along the Golden Gate bridge and out to the Sausalito houseboat. Back in 1967, you didn’t do the Fillmore without Bill Graham.
Bill Graham’s presence is all over this story.
Speaking of the Frisco Bay, the city of San Francisco dedicated a plaque to Otis Redding for “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” You can find it somewhere along Pier 32 at the Brannan Street Wharf Park.
Before you ask, Pier 32 in San Francisco is nowhere near Sausalito, CA. You can’t even see Sausalito from Pier 32 and vice-versa unless you take a boat. In fact, take a ferry boat from Pier 41. You can get a great walk. You’ll pass Alcatraz Island along the way. It’ll make for a beautiful day on the bay.
And I’d love to bash the choosing of the location further but the powers-that-be got Otis’s son, Otis Redding III to sing “Dock of the Bay” for the opening celebration. Here are more links to the story:
I’ll go with what Steve Cropper says, for now. I trust him. But, I still want to track down Bill Graham’s Houseboat.
At this time, I don’t know whether or not he had one to give out. I’ve read articles where Graham was great with real estate so it’s plausible he had a houseboat or two as income property, if nothing else. Still more to search out.