Redding, Otis 1941–1967
Otis Redding 1941–1967
In December of 1967 Otis Redding’s private plane crashed into the icy waters of Lake Monona near Madison, Wisconsin, killing the famed singer who landed his only number one hit and Grammy award-winning record, “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” posthumously. Before his tragic death, Redding emerged, during the early 1960s, as the creator of a unique vocal style and one of the decade’s greatest soul performers. Backed by the house musicians of Memphis’ Stax/Volt record label, he recorded a wealth of titles which continue to find their way into the repertoires of soul and rock performers. By the late 1960s, Redding brought the music of his humble Georgia roots to the concert stages of Europe, building an international audience that influenced musicians from America, England, and the African continent.
Otis Redding was born on September 9, 1941 in Dawson, Georgia, one of Otis Redding Sr. ’s six children. At age three Redding moved with his family three hundred miles north to Macon, and settled into the Belleview housing project, known to local residents as Hellview. Not long after, Reddings’ father—a part-time preacher employed at nearby Robbins Air Force Base—moved the family into a small shotgun house. After fire damaged the residence, the family moved back into Macon’s housing projects. During his early years in Macon, Redding sang in a gospel group, played drums in the school band, and performed piano at local talent contests. His early vocal influences included Sam Cooke, Little Richard, Little Willie John, and Hank Ballard. Though Cooke remained a musical role model and an example of an independent black businessman, Redding later expressed, in The Life and Times of Little Richard, his debt to his fellow Georgian Little Richard, “I entered the music business because of Richard—he is my inspiration. I used to sing like Little Richard, his Rock ‘n’ Roll stuff, you know. Richard has soul, too.”
By the time Redding entered Ballard High School his father was frequently hospitalized from the worsening effects of tuberculosis. To help support the family, he dropped out of school in the tenth grade and worked as a well-digger and gas station attendant. His passion for music, however, led him to land a more lucrative employment with Little Richard’s former band, the Upsetters. In 1959 Redding performed at a local talent
Born Otis Redding Jr., on September 9, 1941, in Dawson, Georgia; died December 9,1967, in Lake Monona near Madison, Wisconsin; son of Otis Sr. (a part-time preacher); married Zelma Redding in 1959; children: Dexter, Karla, and Otis lll; Educai ion: attended Ballard High School, Macon, Georgia.
As a teenager worked as well digger and gas station attendant; sang on the road with Little Richard’s former band, the Upsetters; appeared at Macon’s talent show at Douglass Theatre, 1959; went to California to record in 1960; returned to Macon and performed in bands such as Little Willie and the Panthers and later with Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers; recorded first hit single at Stax/Volt records in Memphis, 1962; recorded at Stax for next five years and toured nationally; formed own the Jotis label and took part in the European Stax/Volt tour, 1966; performed at Monterey International Pop Festival in June of 1967; earned a posthumous million-selling record in 1968.
Awards : “Best Male Vocalist, Melody Maker Magazine, 1967; Grammy award, for” (Sitting on) The Dock Of The Bay”, 1968.
show, “Teenage Party,” held at Macon’s Douglass Theatre and broadcasted live on WIBB radio. Singing in “a modified Little Richard style,” Redding emerged the show’s weekly contest winner. In Sweet Soul Music, guitarist Johnny Jenkins later recounted first hearing Redding at a “Teenage Party” performance, “I heard Otis at the Douglass, and the group behind him just wasn’t making it. So I went up to him and said, ‘Do you mind if I play behind you?’ Cause he didn’t know me.... Well, he sounded great with me playing behind him.” Not long after that Jenkins and Redding began to perform together at small venues.
While playing the Douglass Theatre, in 1959, Redding met his future wife Zelma. In the following year, the twenty-year old singer left for Los Angeles, telling Zelma that he was destined for stardom as a recording artist. In the liner notes to The Definitive Otis Redding, Zelma recounted, “When Otis went to California to record I was three months pregnant with Dexter [the couple’s first son]. He said he was going to be a star.” Though she had initial doubts concerning Redding’s musical career goals and the promise of marriage upon his return, Zelma stood by her determined boyfriend. On the west coast Redding recorded for the Finer Arts label, a session that included the 1960 single “She’s Alright,” by Otis Redding and the Shooters.
Redding returned to Macon in 1960 and performed with Little Willie and the Panthers, managed by local white rhythm and blues impresario Phil Walden. Not long after, Redding became a featured guest singer with Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers. Backed by the Pinetoppers, Redding recorded the 1960 single “Shout Bamalama” for Bobby Smith’s Confederate label (later renamed Bethlehem), a number which, despite its receiving radio air play on WLAC, failed commercially. In 1961 Redding married Zelma, fulfilling his earlier promise to a woman who would prove a life-long source of affection and support. Convinced of her husband’s burgeoning talent, Zelma worked various jobs to support the family. “Otis enjoyed every minute of his life,” recalled Zelma, in the liner notes to The Definitive Otis Redding. “He had his own mind about what he would dream.... He didn’t complain. If it was fine, it was fine. If it wasn’t, it was, ‘It’ll work out.’ That’s what he’d say. ‘Oh, it’ll work out.’ And that’s how he kept himself going,” she added. Redding’s determination to become a full-time professional singer, according to Geri Hirshey in Nowhere to Run, caused him to be “fired as a lot attendant for singing in parked cars” and also lose a job as a “hospital orderly for vocalizing in the halls.”
Redding’s perseverance, however, soon earned him local fame. He continued performing as “Rockhouse Redding” with Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers, in 1962, appearing at halls and college dances. As a result of the Pinetoppers’ local hit “Soul Twist,” the group was invited, upon the intercession of Atlantic record’s regional talent scout Joe Galkin, to record at Memphis’ Stax Studio. In October of 1962, Redding, upon the urging of promoter and booking agent Phil Walden, drove the Pinetoppers to their Stax recording session. During the last half hour of an unproductive Pinetoppers’ session, Redding despite the protest of several band members, gained permission to record his numbers “Hey, Hey, Hey” b/w “These Arms of Mine.” Though “Hey, Hey, Hey” revealed a strong Little Richard influence, The b-side number “These Arms of Mine”—written by Redding—emerged a soulful ballad which exuded a tormented sense of yearning. Redding’s recordings fell under a deal in which Stax agreed to promote the records for fifty percent of the publishing rights, and release the albums on the company’s newly formed subsidiary Volt label. “These Arms of Mine” found commercial success through the efforts of Nashville disc jockey “John R” Richbourg whose airplay of the song on WLAC radio broke it into the R&B market.
Nine months after recording “These Arms of Mine,” Redding, who had already ventured beyond his imitative vocal period, returned to Stax studio, and over the next five years enjoyed a nearly ideal creative and financial working relationship with the owners, staff, and musicians at Stax/Volt Records. As Peter Guralnick noted, in his work Sweet Soul Music, “With [Redding’s] arrival Stax entered a whole new phase ... that made Stax a byword in soul circles, that would eventually open up the world of Southern soul to a large-scale white audience.” In All The Years of Popular Music, David Ewen pointed out that “Redding not only helped to create soul, but he was also responsible for producing the “Memphis Sound.” As Guralnick stated in Sweet Soul Music, “Otis Redding was the heart and soul of Stax Records.”
At Stax studio in 1963, Redding recorded with the company’s talented house band: Booker T and the MG’s, a racially diverse group which included organist Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper, drummer Al Jackson Jr., and bassist Lewis Steinberg (soon replaced by Donald “Duck” Dunn). Unlike other modern studios of the period, the Stax formula did not employ the use of multi-tracking or overdubs. At Stax the staff and the company’s musicians encouraged an improvisatory approach by its artists—what the house musicians often termed spontaneous arrangements. Redding greatly benefitted from the interplay of the MG’s and the Mar-Keys horn section. In his work The Sound of the City, Charlie Gillett observed that the band’s strong rhythm afforded Redding “to stay close to it without emphasizing every alternate beat, as was the current treatment in fast songs. When he did come in hard with the band, the effect was exhilarating.” Redding benefitted from the talents of his manager Phil Walden who had first heard the singer on the “Teenage Party” radio show, and became the first promoter to take notice of the young singer. Through the management of Walden and his brother Alan, Redding played a string of nightclub dates throughout the South.
By 1964 Stax released a number of Redding’s single sides such as “Pain in My Heart” (patterned after Irma Thomas’ performance of Aaron Neville’s number “Rules of My Heart”), “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” and “Mr. Pitiful,” co-written by Redding and Stax guitarist Steve Cropper, who would prove a tremendous asset in the playing and authoring of Redding’s music. In January of 1964 Stax/Volt released Redding’s debut album Pain in My Heart, and, in March of the same year, followed with The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads (both works culled material from Redding’s previous singles). September of 1965 saw the release of Redding’s Otis Blue, Otis Redding Sings Soul, a work considered, among many popular music critics, as the decade’s finest soul record (Otis Blue also emerged as Redding’s first album to reach the charts in England). Dedicated to Redding’s idol Sam Cooke who died in 1964, the album contained covers of Cooke’s “Shake” and “Change Gonna Come,” and included three original songs: “Ole Man Trouble,” “Respect,” and his master-piece ballad, co-written with Jerry Butler, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.”
With first rate back-up musicians and a first-rate management team, Redding’s career quickly gained momentum. By 1966 he launched his own new record company Jotis and acquired a 300-acre ranch which stabled several horses and a small herd of Angus cattle. In October of 1966 he recorded his album Complete and Unbelievable... The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul, which featured such classic numbers as Redding’s “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa Song, co-written with Steve Cropper and, “Try a Little Tenderness”, both of which have emerged as popular music standards. The album Dictionary of Soul, wrote rock critic Jon Landau, “was the finest ever to come out of Memphis, truly one of the finest pop recordings of the decade.” In his work Nowhere to Run, Gerri Hershey concurred, “Otis Redding was never more clearly defined than in his 1966 LP Dictionary of Soul.”
In January of 1967, Redding teamed up with Memphis singer Carla Thomas to record the album King and Queen. On the album’s cover of bluesman Lowell Fulson’s “Tramp,” Redding and Thomas engage in satirical dialogue, with Thomas, posing as Redding’s mate, dismissing him for looking “... country, straight from the Georgia woods.” That same year, several of Redding’s concert were captured on albums such as the 1967 Otis Live in Europe, recorded on the 1967 Volt/Stax European Tour. In June of the same year, Redding performed Northern California’s Monterey Pop Festival. Singing to a crowd of fifty thousand hippie generation “acid trippers” exposed Redding to the largest white audience he had yet to encounter during his career. The festival’s program was divided into a ‘pop’ performance on Friday, a Saturday night show featuring California bands, and a closing appearance of ‘superstars’ on Sunday. Black R&B acts like Otis Redding, Lou Rawls, and African trumpeter Hugh Masakela were booked at various intervals throughout the weekend. Taking the stage Redding and the clean-cut looking MG’s and Mar-Keys launched into the fast-paced opener “Shake.” According to the film Remembering Otis, Redding asked the audience, “Y’all the love crowd, right? We all love each other, am I right? Let me hear you say Yeah, then!” After rousing the crowd, he launched into his masterpiece ballad “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.”
In the fall of 1967, Redding underwent an operation for polyps on his throat and took three months off his busy schedule to convalesce at his Big-O ranch. While he enjoyed his time off from the road, Redding was earning worldwide praise. In October, the British music magazine Melody Maker named Redding as “Best Male Vocalist,” replacing the previous seven-year consecutive winner, Elvis Presley. In early December of 1967, he took part in a Stax session which yielded his original number “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of Bay.” After completing the session, Redding and his back-up band, the Bar-Keys (a unit which superseded the Mar-Keys horn section), boarded a plane headed for a concert date in Madison, Wisconsin.
On December 9, 1967, Redding’s twin-engine Beech-craft airplane crashed into Lake Monona, killing the singer and, all but one member of the Bar-Keys. At Redding’s funeral held in Macon’s City Auditorium thousands of fans filed pass his coffin to give their last respects. At the service Booker T. played the organ and Jerry Wexler gave the eulogy. As Wexler later recounted in Rhythm and the Blues, “There was something pure about his personality, calm, dignified, vibrant ... Stardom never changed him. He had a strong inner life. He was emotionally centered.” Wexler continued, “Redding was one of those rare souls who saw beyond color and externalities; he dealt with you as a human being, not as white or black or a Christian or a Jew. His intelligence was keen, his curiosity high, and despite stories to the contrary he was anything but the cliche’ of the backwoods boy come to the big city. Otis knew what was happening.”
Redding’s death also left an impact on fellow musicians like James Brown, who, months before Redding’s death, had talked with Redding and Solomon Burke about forming a black-owned entertainment company. “[Redding’s] death was tragic to me,” stated Brown, in his memoir Godfather of Soul. “I knew him from way back in Macon when he was just a kid.... I’d see him out on the road, and we always talked about how much we missed Georgia,” he added.
Otis Redding “believed in communication,” commented Jon Landau in his work It’s Too Late to Stop Now. “Every device and technique he created was designed to further his communicative potentiality,” he added. His music evoked a simple yet powerful directness, premised on the ability to reach his fellow man in honest message and delivery. “Otis worked in simple, black,” explained Redding’s guitarist and co-songwriter Steve Cropper, in Nowhere to Run. “The man would make Gerschwin sound greasy.” In the decades since Redding’s death his music still communicates a sense of self-liberation and the need to overcome loneliness, the travails of lost love, and the barriers of a mainstream society which could no longer ignore the proud and talented voice of black America.
Pain in My Heart, Stax/Volt, 1964.
The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads, Stax/Volt, 1965.
Otis Blues, Otis Redding Sings Soul, Stax/Volt, 1965.
The Soul Album, Stax/Volt, 1966.
Complete and Unbelievable... The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul, Stax/Volt, 1966.
King and Queen (Otis Redding and Carla Thomas), Stax, 1967.
Live in Europe, Stax/Volt, 1967.
The Dock of the Bay, 1968.
Otis Redding/The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Historic Performances At Monterey International Pop Festival, (recorded 1967) Reprise, 1970.
Recorded Live: Previously Unreleased Performances, (recorded 1966), Atlantic, 1982.
The Best Of Otis Redding, Atlantic, 1985.
The Otis Redding Story, Atlantic, 1987.
Good to Me: Recorded Live at the Whiskey A Go Go, Vol. 2, (recorded 1966), Stax, 1993.
The Definitive Otis Redding, (CD Box set), Rhino Records, 1993.
The Stax/Volt Revue: Hit the Road Stax, Volume 3 Live in Europe, (recorded 1967), Stax, 1992.
Remembering Otis, (filmed at Monterey International Pop Festival 1967) Pennbaker Associates, 1986.
Brown, James with Bruce Tucker, James Brown the Godfather of Soul, Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1997, p. 177.
Ewen, David, All The Years of American Popular Music: A Comprehensive History, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1977, p. 682-683.
Gillett, Charlie, The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll, Outerbridge & Dienstfrey, 1970, p. 271, 277-279.
Guralnick, Peter, Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom, Harper & Row, 1986.
Hirshey, Gerri, Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music, Times Books, 1984, p. 337-344.
Landau, Jon, It’s Too late To Stop Now: A Rock ’n’ Roll Journal, (includes essay “Otis Redding: King of Them All”), Straight Arrow Books, 1972, pp. 155-159.
White, Charles, The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Quasar of Rock, Harmony Books, 1984, p. 220.
Additional information for this profile taken from the liner notes to The Definitive Otis Redding, edited by Jaimie Wolf, (includes various essays) Rhino Records, 1993.
"Redding, Otis 1941–1967." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/redding-otis-1941-1967
"Redding, Otis 1941–1967." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved October 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/redding-otis-1941-1967
Otis Reading’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.”
Reading’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
Born September 9, 1941, in Dawson, Ga; raised in Macon, Ga; drowned following an airplane crash December 10, 1967, near Madison, Wis.
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.”
Awards: Selected top male vocalist of 1967 by Melodi/Maker magazine.
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. Reading’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.”
Reading’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, Reading’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.”
Reading’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.
Pain In My Heart, Ateo, 1964.
Otis Blue, Volt/Atlantic, 1965.
Soul Ballads, Volt, 1965.
Dictionary Of Soul, Volt/Atlantic, 1966.
The Soul Album, Volt, 1966.
The Dock Of The Baby, Volt/Stax, 1967.
History of Otis Redding,Atco, 1967.
Otis Redding Live In Europe, Atco, 1967.
(With Carla Thomas) King & Queen, Volt/Stax, 1967.
The immoral Otis Redding, Atco, 1968.
In Person At The Whiskey A Go-Go, Atco, 1968.
Love Man,Atco /Atlandic, 1969
Tell The Truth, Atco, 1970.
Otis Redding/The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Historic Performances Recorded At The Monterey International Pop Festival,Reprise,1970.
The Best Of Otis Redding, Atco, 1972.
Christgau, Robert, Christgau’s Record Guide, Ticknor & Fields, 1981.
Dalton, David, and Lenny Kaye, Rock 100, Grosset & Dunlap, 1977.
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, compiled by Nick Logan and Bob Woffinden, Harmony, 1977.
The Rolling Stone Record Guide, edited by Dave Marsh with John Swenson, Random House/Rolling Stone Press, 1979.
The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, edited by Jim Miller, Random House/Rolling Stone Press, 1976.
Shaw, Arnold, Honkers And Shouters, Collier, 1978.
Stambler, Irwin, The Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul, revised edition, St. Martin’s, 1989.
—Calen D. Stone
"Redding, Otis." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/redding-otis
"Redding, Otis." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved October 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/redding-otis