Otis Redding

Otis Redding is regarded by some as the greatest male soul singer of all time. With the exception of James Brown, his was the most popular black act of his time. Otis was also a terrific songwriter.

He was born in Dawson, Georgia in 1941. Growing up in Georgia in the 50's he listened to songs by Sam Cooke and Little Richard and decided that he would like to be a singer himself. He joined a group called Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers in Macon, which was Little Richard's home town. He recorded with that group on the Confederate label beginning in 1960. One of Otis' first recordings, Shout Banalama, is done in the style made famous by Little Richard in the 50's.

A turning point in Otis Redding's career came when he drove Johnny Jenkins to Memphis for a recording session. The session was held at a new studio known as Stax and although it was Jenkins who had initially attracted the attention of the record producers, Otis was able to do some recording of his own at the end of the session. He managed to get a song that he had written titled These Arms Of Mine released and it made the top twenty on the R&B charts in 1963.

These Arms Of Mine was the first of 15 hit songs that Otis put on the R&B charts. The song crossed over to the pop charts and he followed it with I've Been Loving You Too Long [To Stop Now], a song that went to number twenty-one on the pop charts in 1965. Others followed: his own composition of Respect, a cover of the Rolling Stones' Satisfaction, and Try A Little Tenderness. He also recorded some duets with Carla Thomas, daughter of Memphis soul singer Rufus Thomas. These included Tramp and a cover of Eddie Floyd's Knock On Wood.

Stax Records had some legal entanglements with Volt Records and some of Redding's songs were released on Stax, others on Volt. His popularity helped to make Stax/Volt a force in the music industry in the 60's. Stax/Volt had talented back-up musicians such as Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, and their house band the Mar-Keys; other big names would follow including Wilson Pickett and Sam & Dave. But it was Otis Redding that gave it the impetus it needed to reach the big time.

Aretha Franklin recorded Otis' Respect on the Atlantic label and it went to number one on the pop charts in the Spring of 1967. That year Otis Redding made an appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival. His performance in front of a predominately white audience was superb. It resulted in an album Otis Redding/Jimi Hendrix Experience and the film of that concert is still available. Otis Redding was hot.

Redding went to Sausalito to relax and, inspired by his experience at the Monterey Pop Festival, wrote [with Steve Cropper] what proved to be his most successful song [Sittin' On] The Dock Of The Bay. He recorded the song on December 7, 1967. He left for a tour with his back-up group, the Bar-Kays, who had earlier come up with their own hit song, Soul Finger. On December 10 while flying to a scheduled performance, his airplane crashed into Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin. Some aboard survived the crash, but Otis Redding and four members of the Bar-Kays were killed.

Early in 1968 [Sittin' On] The Dock Of The Bay, as recorded by Otis Redding three days before his death, reached number one on the pop and R&B charts; it was Otis' only top twenty pop song. Other songs were released posthumously, by Stax/Volt, Atco, Atlantic, and other labels.

Otis Redding was inducted into the Rock-and-Roll Hall Of Fame in 1989.

Most Recent Update: July 28, 2004

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Send email to the author, Tom Simon tsimon@tsimon.com.