How Northern California Inspired Otis Redding’s Famous Song (Sittin’ on the) Dock of the Bay

Otis Redding had become a world-famous singer/songwriter by the bright age of 26-years-old when a visit to Northern California inspired his most popular song. Sadly, the singer didn’t stay alive long enough to enjoy its successes.

The soul singer had come to San Francisco to play a six-night gig at The Fillmore when he wrote the song. According to his biographer, during his stay, Redding stayed at music promoter Bill Graham’s houseboat in Sausalito during his NorCal stay. There, he sat on the water of the San Francisco Bay, strumming his guitar and singing the beautiful words:

Sittin’ in the mornin’ sun
I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ come
Watching the ships roll in
And then I watch ’em roll away again, yeah

A few months after his Northern California trip,“(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” was recorded song with guitarist Steve Cropper in Memphis. In a September 1990 interview on NPR, Cropper explained the origins of the song:

Otis was one of those the kind of guy who had 100 ideas. He had been in San Francisco doing The Fillmore. And 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.”I left my home in Georgia, headed for the Frisco Bay” was all about him going out to San Francisco to perform.

The song, which became the Redding’s first million-seller and first Billboard Number One single, turned out be his final song. Only a few months later in December of 1967, Redding died in a plane crash at the age of 26. He never heard the final version of the song.

Of all things that Northern California has inspired, this song sits atop the list as one of the best

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California


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