21 November 2016, No. 215, Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, ‘Tramp’

The chronology is a little fuzzy here, but it’s a clean-shaven kind of clear that No. 215, “Tramp” from Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, is not the original. It’s a cover of “Tramp” by Lowell Fulson, which was released as a single and as the leading cut of an LP in 1967.

In 1966 Joe Tex put out “Papa Was Too” (which was No. 41 on our list), and that song also contains an accusation of tramphood and the response that, “well, papa was too.” Fulson’s “Tramp” is not an outright cover of “Papa Was Too,” and since songs are usually written and performed publicly before they’re recorded, the question of who inspired whom is open even though the Joe Tex record was first.

In 1968 an assemblage of studio musicians calling themselves The Mohawks put out “The Champ,” an instrumental cover of the Fulson tune. “The Champ” is coming up in the 400s and is maybe the most recognizable of the songs under discussion here, with an organ riff that’s been sampled everywhere.

Otis Redding, according to Carla Thomas in “Tramp,” was country, with his big old brogan shoes. In fact brogans are more like boots and have a construction similar to (yet simpler than) brogues. Redding was from Georgia and died at 26 in a plane crash. Maybe his ghost haunts Lake Monona, Wisconsin, where the plane went down, or maybe it tramps the Georgia woods in overalls and unkempt hair. Either way most of Redding’s stuff is a little too popular for this list, though I think I’ll add “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” to the next one, since even the current list has a “crowd pleasers” subsection.

This Redding and Thomas version of “Tramp” isn’t fully faithful to the Fulson original, and I’m happy to report Redding’s offer to replace minks and sables with squirrels, rats, and rabbits is wholly an invention for the new version. Plus Fulson had only three Cadillacs to Redding’s six and nothing in the way of Lincolns, Fords, or Mercuries.

But you’ll never catch either one in those continental clothes.