Redding, Otis, Jr.

views updated

REDDING, Otis, Jr.

(b. 9 September 1941 near Dawson, Georgia; d. 10 December 1967 in Madison, Wisconsin), singer who, as a leading pioneer of southern-style soul music, transcended region and race with his music, which became one of the defining sounds of the 1960s.

Redding was the fourth child and first son of Otis Redding, Sr., a sharecropper, and Fannie Mae Roseman, a homemaker. Redding and his five brothers and sisters were born in a sharecropper cabin nine miles from Dawson, Georgia. In 1942 the family settled in Macon, Georgia, where Redding's father was a maintenance worker and part-time preacher and his mother worked at Woolworth's. Redding had to drop out of Ballard-Hudson High School when he was fifteen years old and in the tenth grade. His father, who had long been in poor health, was no longer able to maintain employment. As the oldest male, Redding had to go to work to support the large family.

Redding began his music career in 1956, singing in amateur spots in local nightclubs, generally using his rough voice on songs by his idol, Little Richard. In 1959 he performed at a local talent show and won. Redding was singing professionally soon after that and working with bands, notably Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers, which he joined in 1959 as manager, driver, and occasional singer. In mid-1960 Redding went Los Angeles for a few months, hoping for a break in his singing career, but the session he recorded there showed little of his promise. He returned to Macon later the same year and joined the unfortunately named Confederate (later Orbit) label, recording "Shout Bamalama," a derivative Little Richard sound that sold only moderately. On 17 August 1961 Redding married Zelma Atwood, a local girl whom he had dated for two years. The couple had two sons and a daughter. (Redding's sons and their cousin Mark Locket formed a successful recording group in the 1980s, the Reddings.)

Through his association with the Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers band, Redding got the opportunity to record again in 1962. The band was contracted to record at Stax Records in Memphis, and at the end of the session, Redding was scheduled to record two songs on speculation. Redding impressed the company with an original, "These Arms of Mine," an achingly sung ballad that captured the emerging new soul style. Stax released the record on its Volt imprint, and the record reached number twenty-nine on the Cash Box rhythm and blues (R&B) chart in 1963. As soul music records came to dominate the R&B charts, Redding rapidly became one of the foremost disseminators of the style. Most of his 1964 hits were slow ballads, notably "Pain in My Heart" and "Chained and Bound," but the more up-tempo "Security" demonstrated a broader range of his abilities as a songwriter and singer. Redding's album The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads (1965) made some of his earliest hits accessible in one popular package.

Redding kept his name on the charts with some uptempo original compositions in 1965, including "Mr. Pitiful" and "Respect," which reached number four on the Billboard R&B chart and became a number-one hit for Aretha Franklin in 1967. A ballad written with soul singer Jerry Butler, "I've Been Loving You Too Long (to Stop Now)," generated Redding's first notable pop success on Billboard's Hot 100 chart in the spring of 1965. Redding, however, was still not a household name in white America.

Redding sustained his recording success in 1966 with a remake of the Rolling Stones hit "Satisfaction," "Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa Fa (Sad Song)," and a propulsive remake of a 1933 big band hit, "Try a Little Tenderness." Stax released Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul in 1965 and Complete & UnbelievableThe Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul in 1966. This second album gathered his 1965 and 1966 hits and combined them with remakes of soul classics.

Beginning in 1965 Redding began to branch out from performing to other areas of the music business. He established a music publishing company, Redwall Music, and a record label, Jotis, and began producing and writing for other artists. His only major success in this area was Arthur Conley's "Sweet Soul Music," a song he recorded and produced; it reached number two on both the R&B and the pop charts in early 1967.

In June 1967 Redding appeared at the Monterey International Pop Festival, which was focused on the big rock acts of the day. His performance was captured for posterity in the film Monterey Pop. The audience was unfamiliar with Redding as a live artist, but his stunning performance so enhanced his reputation that the rock world came to view him as the definitive soul artist.

Meanwhile, in late 1966 Stax had teamed Redding with its premier female soul star, Carla Thomas, and the two recorded a duet album, King & Queen. The album generated two of Redding's biggest hits during 1967, a Lowell Fulson remake, "Tramp," and an Eddie Floyd remake, "Knock on Wood." Late in 1967 Redding recorded a remarkable song that he had written with Steve Cropper. Representing a radical change of style for Redding, "(Sitting on) the Dock of the Bay" employed almost a folk-song approach. Sadly, he did not live to see the record become a million-selling hit, reaching number one on both the R&B and pop charts in early 1968. Redding and several members of his backup band, the Bar-Kays, died in a plane crash on 10 December 1967 while on their way to a concert date in Madison, Wisconsin. The world had just glimpsed Redding's newly evolved creativity, where under the influence of the decade's flourishing rock music revolution he was improving his lyrics and going beyond his Southern soul style.

After Redding's death Stax continued to release material he had recorded during the last year of his life. Posthumously Redding had nine records on the R&B and pop charts in 1969. The most successful of the releases were "The Happy Song (Dum Dum)," "I've Got Dreams to Remember," and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," the last a remake of an old James Brown hit.

Redding emerged as a successful recording artist during the civil rights movement and the urban riots that engulfed the country's large cities, when African Americans were fighting for and winning a more equitable place in American society. As a principal architect of soul music, Redding became emblematic of black gains, becoming a cultural hero to his African-American followers and an icon of black music for the rock generation. For these achievements he was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1994. He is buried at his ranch outside Macon.

Otis Redding is the subject of two book-length biographies: Scott Freeman, Otis! The Otis Redding Story (2001), and Geoff Brown, Otis Redding: Try A Little Tenderness (2001). The best magazine feature on Redding is Rob Bowman, "Otis Redding: R-E-S-P-E-C-T," Goldmine 16, no. 12 (15 June 1990): 9–14, 102. A four-CD boxed set, Otis! The Definitive Otis Redding (1993), includes a complete discography and several biographical essays, including commentary by Redding's widow, Zelma. An obituary is in Rolling Stone (20 Jan. 1968).

Robert Pruter