Born September 9, 1941, in Dawson, Ga; raised in Macon, Ga; drowned following an airplane crash December 10, 1967, near Madison, Wis.

Otis Redding's recording history lasted a mere five years, from 1962 until 1967, but established him as perhaps the greatest soul singer of all time. His career was cut so short that he was never even able to enjoy the success of his most popular tune, 1968's "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay," a song that Redding so perfectly transformed into a work of pop art that most artists still won't dare to attempt it.

Redding was born in Georgia and, like his fellow statesman Little Richard, was steeped in the gospel tradition of church singing. His solo career began quite by accident while working as the road manager-driver-occasional singer for Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers of the southern college frat circuit fame. With about forty minutes left at the end of one of Jenkins Stax label recording sessions, Redding cut a song, "These Arms of Mine" backed with "Hey, Hey, Hey," on a whim. The unique mixture of Memphis gospel and soul went on to sell an amazing 800,000 copies and bolted the singer into prominence.

The cut broke the Hot 100 and earned Redding a contract with Volt Records whereupon he released his second single, "Pain in My Heart." Phil Walden, a high school pal of Redding's who had introduced the vocalist to Jenkins earlier, took over as his manager. With the backing of the Bar-Kays and Booker T. and the MG's (including Steve Cropper on guitar, who co-wrote many of Redding's songs, Duck Dunn on bass, and the Mar-Key horn section), Redding recorded his songs very quickly to capture the raw energy while somehow managing to retain a laid-back feel. "When I go into a studio to record a song, I only have a title and maybe a first verse," Redding is quoted in Rock 100. "The rest I make up as we're recording."

Redding soon outgrew the adolescent style of Little Richard but continued to expand on the style of another one of his idols, Sam Cooke, in an attempt to bring the feel of church music into the pop realm. "More than any other soul singer, Otis managed to communicate and intimate the encouraging, sustaining power of gospel and translate its fundamental faith into an international code," noted Rock 100. After Cooke died in 1964, Redding carried the torch and offered a tribute to the late artist with "Shake."

Redding's rough-edged but gentle approach garnered him a huge following overseas as he headlined the Stax-Volt European Tour of 1965. That same year he wrote and recorded "Respect," a soul charter that first established Redding's own unique style and later became a Number 1 hit in 1967 for Aretha Franklin. On the jacket of his Live in Europe LP from 1965, writer Deanie Parker stated, "Otis Redding has breathed new life into soul music and helped bring it to its current prominence in the contemporary music world, where it is brightening hot charts the world over."

With his slow moaning pleas on ballads, Redding became known as Mr. Pitiful, but it was the uptempo tunes that were his forte and helped him become the first soul artist to break over into the white market. He covered the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" as a nod to the group who had covered his material on their Out of Our Heads LP. Redding's versions of "Satisfaction" and the Beatles' "Day Tripper" were instrumental in earning him pop radio airplay, a goal he had been trying to attain without sacrificing his roots within the black audience.

"Redding was not going to change his music," wrote Jon Landau in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. "He loved it, had already received recognition for it, and was confident his turn would come. It's doubtful the idea of altering his style to boost record sales ever occurred to him. He had perfected his vocal syntax, his rapport with his sidemen, and his linear, totally committed music."

Redding's studio work--including songs like "Fa, Fa, Fa, Fa, Fa," "I've Been Loving You Too Long," "Mr. Pitiful," "Try a Little Tenderness," and "Shout Bamalama" (in tribute to Little Richard)--created a totally new sound soon to be known as the Memphis Sound, which soon attracted others like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett to the Tennessee city in hopes of capturing its spirit. As fantastic as his records were, Redding's bread and butter was on stage, as evidenced from his stunning performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 (captured on film as Monterey Pop ). A ball of energy, face grimacing with sweat and strutting in a shiny sharkskin suit, Redding controlled his audiences with precision. "Redding was a marvel: one of the great live showmen ( Live in Europe is better than any other live rock or soul album I can think of)," wrote Dave Marsh in The Rolling Stone Record Guide, "a masterful ballad singer and a true rocker in the spirit of his boyhood hero, Little Richard. Everything the man recorded...demands to be heard."

Redding's incredible career was brought to a sudden and tragic halt on December 10, 1967. While touring with the Bar-Kays (who had scored with the hit "Soul Finger"), Redding chartered a plane out of Cleveland to take him to the tour's next engagement. The twin-engine plane crashed into a fog-shrouded lake near Madison, Wisconsin, drowning Redding and taking the lives of four of the five members of his troupe.

by Calen D. Stone

Otis Redding's Career

Singer, songwriter; signed with Volt Records and released first record, "These Arms of Mine," 1963; had numerous hit singles, including "Pain In My Heart," "Mr. Pitiful," "I've Been Loving You Too Long," "Respect," "Try a Little Tenderness," and "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay."

Otis Redding's Awards

Selected top male vocalist of 1967 by Melody Maker magazine.

Famous Works

Further Reading


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