Otis Ray Redding, Jr.
(September 9, 1941 – December 10, 1967) was an American singer, songwriter, record producer, arranger and talent scout. He is considered one of the greatest singers in popular music and a major artist in soul and rhythm and blues. His singing style was powerfully influential among soul artists of 1960s and helped exemplify the Stax Sound.Born and raised in Georgia, United States, Redding left school at 15 to support his family, working with Little Richard's backing band, the Upsetters, and performing at talent shows for prize money. In 1958, he joined Johnny Jenkins' band, the Pinetoppers, and toured the Southern United States as driver and musician. An unscheduled appearance on a Stax recording session led to a contract and his first single, "These Arms of Mine", in 1962. Stax released Redding's debut album, Pain in My Heart
, two years later.Initially popular mainly with African Americans, Redding later reached the broader American popular music audience. He and his group first played small gigs in the South, then debuted in the western United States at LA's popular Whisky a Go Go. They later performed in Paris, London and other European cities.After appearing at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival Redding wrote and recorded the iconic "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" with Steve Cropper. The song became the first posthumous number-one record on both the Billboard
Hot 100 and R&B charts after his death in a plane crash. The Dock of the Bay
became the first posthumous album to reach number one on the UK Albums Chart.Redding's premature death devastated Stax. Already on the verge of bankruptcy, the label soon discovered that Atlantic Records owned the rights to his entire catalog.Redding received many posthumous accolades, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He received the honorific "King of Soul". In addition to "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," "Respect" and "Try a Little Tenderness" are among his best known songs.Early careerA member of Pat T. Cake and the Mighty Panthers, Redding toured the Southern United States on the Chitlin' circuit. These venues were the only ones available for African American musicians during the era of racial segregation that lasted into the early 1960s. Jenkins left the band to become the featured artist with the Pinetoppers. Around this time, Redding met Phil Walden, the future founder of the recording company Phil Walden and Associates, and later Bobby Smith, who ran the small label Confederate Records. He signed with Confederate and recorded his second single, "Shout Bamalama" (a rewrite of "Gamma Lamma") and "Fat Girl", together with his band Otis and the Shooters. Around this time he and the Pinetoppers attended a "Battle of the Bands" show in Lakeside Park. Wayne Cochran, the only solo artist signed to Confederate, became the Pinetoppers' bassist.When Walden started to look for a record label for Jenkins, Atlantic Records representative Joe Galkin showed interest and around 1962 sent him to a Stax studio in Memphis. Redding drove Jenkins to the session, as the latter did not have a driver's license. Jenkins, backed by Booker T. & the M.G.'s, performed on that session which ended early; Redding was allowed to perform two songs. The first was "Hey Hey Baby", which studio chief Jim Stewart thought sounded too much like Little Richard. The second was "These Arms of Mine", featuring Jenkins on piano and Steve Cropper on guitar. Stewart later praised Redding's performance noting, "Everybody was fixin' to go home, but Joe Galkin insisted we give Otis a listen. There was something different about [the ballad\]. He really poured his soul into it." Stewart signed Redding and released "These Arms of Mine", with "Hey Hey Baby" on the B-side. The single was released on Volt on October 1962, but charted in March the following year. It became one of his most successful songs, selling more than 800,000 copies.
Apollo Theater and Otis Blue
"These Arms of Mine" and other songs from the 1962–1963 sessions were included on Redding's debut album, Pain in My Heart
. "That's What My Heart Needs" and "Mary's Little Lamb" were recorded in June 1963. The latter is the only Redding track with both background singing and brass. It became his worst-selling single. The title track, recorded in September of 1963, sparked copyright issues, as it sounded like Irma Thomas' "Ruler of My Heart". Despite this, Pain in My Heart
was released on January 1, 1964 and peaked at number 20 on the Billboard
Hot 100 and at number 85 on the R&B chart.In November 1963, Redding and his brother Rodgers accompanied former boxer Sylvester Huckaby to the Apollo Theater in New York to perform. Redding and his band were paid $400 per week, but had to pay $450 to King Curtis' band for the arrangement sheets, leaving them in financial difficulty. The trio asked Walden for money. Huckaby explained their circumstances living in the rundown Theresa Hotel in Peter Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music
. He noted meeting Muhammad Ali and other celebrities. Ben E. King, who performed with Redding at the Apollo, gave him $100 when he learned about Redding's situation. The resulting album featured King, the Coasters, Doris Troy, Rufus Thomas, the Falcons and Redding. Around this time Walden and Rodgers were drafted by the army; Walden's younger brother Alan joined Redding on tour, while Earl "Speedo" Sims replaced Rodgers.The majority of Redding songs after "Security", a song from his first album, had a slow tempo. Disc jockey A. C. Moohah Williams accordingly labeled him "Mr. Pitiful", and subsequently Cropper and Redding wrote the eponymous song. That and top 100 singles "Chained And Bound", "Come To Me" and "That's How Strong My Love Is" were included on Redding's second studio album, The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads
, released in March 1965. Jenkins began working independently from the group out of fear Galkin, Walden and Cropper would plagiarize his playing style, and so Cropper became Redding's leading guitarist. Around 1965, Redding co-wrote "I've Been Loving You Too Long" with the Impressions lead singer Jerry Butler. That summer, Redding and the studio crew arranged new songs for his next album. Ten of the eleven songs were written over 24 hours during July 9–10 in Memphis. Two songs, "Ole Man Trouble" and "Respect", had been finished earlier during the Otis Blue
session. "Respect" and "I've Been Loving You" were later recut in stereo. The album, entitled Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul
, was released in September 1965.
Whisky a Go Go and "Try a Little Tenderness"
Redding's success allowed him to buy a 300-acre (1.2 km) ranch in Georgia, which he called the "Big O Ranch." Stax was also doing well. Walden signed more musicians, including Percy Sledge, Johnnie Taylor, Clarence Carter and Eddie Floyd, and together with Redding they founded two production companies. "Jotis Records" (derived from J
oe Galkin and Otis
) released four recordings, two by Arthur Conley and one by Billy Young and Loretta Williams. The other was named Redwal Music (derived from Red
ding and Wal
den), which has been shut down shortly after its creation. Since Afro-Americans still formed the majority of fans, Redding chose to perform at Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. Redding was one of the first soul artists to perform in the western United States. His performance received critical acclaim, including positive press in the Los Angeles Times
and he penetrated mainstream popular culture. Bob Dylan attended the performance and offered Redding an altered version of one of his songs, "Just Like a Woman".In late 1966, Redding returned to the Stax studio. At this session he recorded tracks including "Try a Little Tenderness", originally written by Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly and Harry M. Woods in 1932. This song had previously been covered by Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, and the publishers unsuccessfully tried to stop Redding from recording the song from a "negro perspective'. Today often considered his signature song, Jim Stewart reckoned, "If there's one song, one performance that really sort of sums up Otis and what he's about, it's 'Try a Little Tenderness'. That one performance is so special and so unique that it expresses who he is." On this version Redding was backed by Booker T. & the M.G.'s, while staff producer Isaac Hayes worked on the arrangement. "Try a Little Tenderness" was included on his next album, Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul
. The song and the album were critically and commercially successful—the former peaked at number 25 on the Billboard
Hot 100 chart and at number 4 on the R&B chart.The spring of 1966 marked the first time that Stax booked concerts for its artists. The majority of the group arrived in London on March 13, but Redding had flown in days earlier for interviews, such as at the "The Eamonn Andrews Show". When the crew arrived in London, the Beatles sent a limousine to pick them up. Booking agent Bill Graham proposed that Redding play at the Fillmore Auditorium in late 1966. The gig was commercially and critically successful, paying Redding around $800 to $1000 a night. It prompted Graham to remark afterwards, "That was the best gig I ever put on in my entire life." Redding began touring Europe six months later.
A year after the Fillmore, Redding released the gold record-winning album King & Queen
, with Carla Thomas. It was Jim Stewart's idea to produce a duet album, as he expected that "[Redding's\] rawness and [Thomas'\] sophistication would work". The album was recorded in January 1967, while Thomas was earning her M.A. in English at Howard University. Six out of ten songs were cut during their joint session; the rest were overdubbed by Redding in the days following, due to concert obligations. Three singles were lifted from the album: "Tramp" was released in April, followed by "Knock on Wood" and "Lovey Dovey". All three reached at least the top 60 on both the R&B and Pop charts. The album charted at number 5 and 36 on the Billboard
Pop and R&B charts, respectively.Redding returned to Europe to perform at the Paris Olympia. The live album Otis Redding: Live in Europe
was released three months later, featuring this and other live performances in London and Stockholm, Sweden. Redding was criticized for his arrogant and contrived (says who?) performances in these concerts. His decision to take his protege Conley (whom Redding and Walden had contracted directly to Atco/Atlantic Records rather than to Stax/Volt) on the tour, instead of more established Stax/Volt artists such as Rufus Thomas and William Bell, produced negative reactions.
In 1967, Redding performed at the influential Monterey Pop Festival as the closing act on Saturday night, the second day of the festival. He was invited through the efforts of promoter Jerry Wexler. Until that point, Redding was still performing mainly for black audiences. His act, which included his own song "Respect" and a version of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction", was well received by the audience. Redding and his backing band (Booker T. & the M.G.'s with the Mar-Keys horn section) opened with Cooke's "Shake" before he delivered an impulsive speech in which he asked the audience if they were the "love crowd", looking for a big response. The ballad "I've Been Loving You" followed. The last song was "Try a Little Tenderness", including an additional chorus. "I got to go, y'all, I don't wanna go", said Redding and left the stage of his last major concert. According to Booker T. Jones, "I think we did one of our best shows, Otis and the MG's. That we were included in that was also something of a phenomenon. That we were there? With those people? They were accepting us and that was one of the things that really moved Otis. He was happy to be included and it brought him a new audience. It was greatly expanded in Monterey." According to Sweet Soul Music
, musicians such as Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix were captivated by his performance; Robert Christgau wrote in Esquire
, "The Love Crowd screamed one's mind to the heavens."After Monterey, Redding wanted to record with Conley, but Stax was against the idea. The two moved from Memphis to Macon to continue writing. The result was "Sweet Soul Music", based on Cooke's "Yeah Man". It peaked at number 2 on the Billboard
Hot 100. By that time Redding had developed polyps on his larynx, which he tried to treat with tea and lemon or honey. He was hospitalized in September 1967 at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York to undergo surgery.
Dock of the Bay
In early December 1967, Redding again recorded at Stax. One new song was "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay", which was written with Cropper while they were staying with their friend, Earl "Speedo" Sims, on a houseboat in Sausalito. Redding was inspired by the Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
and tried to create a similar sound against the label's wishes. His wife Zelma disliked its atypical melody. The Stax crew were also dissatisfied with the new sound; Stewart thought that it was not R&B, while bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn feared it would damage Stax's reputation. However, Redding wanted to expand his musical style and thought it was his best song and correctly believed it would top the charts. Redding whistled at the end, either forgetting Cropper's "fadeout rap", or paraphrasing it intentionally.StyleEarly on Redding copied his role model Richard, before gradually developing his own style. He was primarily influenced by soul musicians such as Cooke, whose live album Sam Cooke at the Copa
was a strong influence, but later explored other popular genres. He studied the Beatles and Dylan. His song "Hard to Handle" has elements of rock and roll and influences of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. Most of his songs were categorized as Southern soul and Memphis soul.His hallmark was his raw voice and ability to convey strong emotion. Richie Unterberger of Allmusic noted his "hoarse, gritty vocals, brassy arrangements, an emotional way with both party tunes and aching ballads." In the book Rock and Roll: An Introduction
, authors Michael Campbell and James Brody suggested that "Redding's singing calls to mind a fervent black preacher. Especially in up-tempo numbers, his singing is more than impassioned speech but less than singing with precise pitch." According to the book, "Redding finds a rough midpoint between impassioned oratory and conventional singing. His delivery overflows with emotion" in his song "I Can't Turn You Loose". Booker T. Jones described Otis' singing as energetic and emotional, but said that his vocal range was limited, reaching neither low nor high notes. Peter Buckley of The Rough Guide To Rock
describes his "gruff voice, which combined Sam Cooke's phrasing with a brawnier delivery" and later suggested he "could testify like a hell-bent preacher, croon like a tender lover or get down and dirty with a bluesy yawp".Redding received advice from Rufus Thomas about his clumsy stage appearance. Jerry Wexler said Redding "didn't know how to move
", and stood still, moving only his upper body, although he acknowledged that Redding was well received by audiences for his strong message. Guralnick described Redding's painful vulnerability in Sweet Soul Music
, an attractive one for the audience, but not for his friends and partners. His early shyness was well known.
In his early career Redding mostly covered songs from popular artists, such as Richard, Cooke and Solomon Burke. Around the mid-1960s he began writing his own songs—always taking along his cheap, red acoustic guitar—and sometimes asked for Stax members' opinion of his lyrics. He often worked on lyrics with other musicians, such as Sims, Rodgers, Huckaby, Phil Walden and Cropper. During his recovery from his throat operation, Redding wrote about 30 songs in two weeks. Redding was the sole copyright holder on all of his songs.In "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay" he abandoned familiar romantic themes for "sad, wistful introspections, amplified by unforgettable descending guitar riffs by Cropper". The official website of the Songwriter's Hall of Fame, noted that the song "was a kind of brooding, dark voicing of despair, ('I've got nothin' to live for/Look like nothin' gonna come my way')" although "his music, in general, was exultant and joyful". According to journalist Ruth Robinson, author of the liner notes for the 1993 box-set, "It is currently a revisionist theory to equate soul with the darker side of man's musical expression, blues. That fanner of the flame of 'Trouble's got a hold on me' music, might well be the father of the form if it is, the glorified exaltation found in church on any Sunday morning is its mother." And further on the site declares that "glorified exaltation indeed was an apt description of Otis Redding's songwriting and singing style." Booker T. Jones compared Redding with Leonard Bernstein stating, "He was the same type person. He was a leader. He'd just lead with his arms and his body and his fingers."Otis Redding favored short and simple lyrics; when asked whether he intended to cover Dylan's "Just Like a Woman", he responded that the lyrics contained "too much text". Furthermore, he stated in an interview:Redding also authored his (sometimes difficult) recordings' horn arrangements, humming to show the players what he had in mind. The recording of "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)" reflects his habit of humming with the horn section.
Otis Redding has been called the "King of Soul", an honorific also given to Brown and Cooke. He remains one of the genre's most recognized artists. His lean and powerful style exemplified the Stax Sound, and gave Stax a new identity; he was said to be its "heart and soul", while artists such as Al Jackson, Dunn and Cropper helped to expand its structure. His open-throated singing, the tremolo/vibrato, the manic, electrifying stage performances and perceived honesty were particular hallmarks, along with the use of interjections, for example "gotta, gotta, gotta", some of which came from Cooke. Producer Stewart thought the "begging singing" was stress-induced and enhanced by Redding's extreme, early shyness.Artists from many genres named Redding as a musical influence. George Harrison called "Respect" an important influence for "Drive My Car". The Rolling Stones also mentioned Redding as an important influence. Other artists include Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Doors; and virtually every soul/R&B musicians from the early years, such as Al Green, Etta James, William Bell, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Conley. Musicians have covered or mixed his songs, most recently Kanye West and Jay-Z with their Grammy Award-winning song "Otis". According to band colleague Sam Andrew, Janis Joplin was influenced by his singing style. She stated that she learned "to push a song instead of just sliding over it" after hearing Redding.
Awards and honors
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted him in 1989, declaring Redding's name to be "synonymous with the term soul, music that arose out of the black experience in America through the transmutation of gospel and rhythm and blues into a form of funky, secular testifying." Readers of the British music newspaper Melody Maker
voted him as the top vocalist of 1967, superseding Elvis Presley, who had topped the list for the prior 10 years. In 1988, he was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. Five years later, the United States Post Office issued a 29-cent commemorative postage stamp in his honor. Redding was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1994, and in 1999 he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listed three Redding recordings, "Shake", "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay", and "Try a Little Tenderness," among its list of "The 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll." American music magazine Rolling Stone
ranked Redding at number 21 on their list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time" and eighth on their list of the "100 Greatest Singers of All Time". Q
ranked Redding fourth among "100 Greatest Singers", after only Frank Sinatra, Franklin and Presley.Five of his albums, Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul
, Dreams to Remember: The Otis Redding Anthology
, The Dock of the Bay
, Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul
and Live in Europe
, were ranked by Rolling Stone
on their list of the "500 Greatest Albums of All Time". The first album was singled out for praise by music critics; apart from the Rolling Stone
listing at number 74, NME ranked it 35 on their list of the "Greatest Albums of All Time". Music critic Robert Christgau said that Otis Blue
was "the first great album by one of soul's few reliable long-form artists", and that Redding's "original LPs were among the most intelligently conceived black albums of the '60s".In 2002, the city of Macon honored its native son by unveiling a memorial statue (32°50'19.05?N 83°37'17.30?W? / ?32.8386250°N 83.6214722°W? / 32.8386250; -83.6214722) in the city's Gateway Park. The park is next to the Otis Redding Memorial Bridge, which crosses the Ocmulgee River The Otis Redding Memorial Library is also housed in the city. The Rhythm and Blues Foundation named Redding as the recipient of its 2006 Pioneer Award. Billboard
awarded Redding the "Otis Redding Excellence Award" the same year. A year later he was inducted into the Hollywood's Rockwalk in California. On August 17, 2013 in Cleveland, Ohio Otis Redding was inducted into the inaugural class of The Official R&B Music Hall of Fame.