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Redding, Otis (1941-1967)

Redding, Otis (1941-1967)

Hailing from Georgia, 1960s soul man Otis Redding exempli-fied the "Stax sound," named after the record company for which he recorded throughout his career as a solo artist. His grainy, emotive vocals backed by the raw but extremely tight house band (Booker T. & the MGs) created a sound that was much copied, and which was responsible for making Memphis-based Stax Records a major player in the 1960s rhythm and blues (R&B) market. Earning a reputation as the penultimate showman and entertainer (rivaling only fellow Georgian James Brown), Redding also became known both as an excellent interpreter (he covered the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" to great effect) and an exceptional songwriter (he wrote "Respect," which Aretha Franklin later popularized). Though most of his influence was confined to the R&B market, at the time of his death at 26, Redding was on the verge of crossing over to the pop market, which he later did with the posthumously released number-one single, "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay." It was with this song and earlier crossover hits that Redding helped to merge the gulf between pop and R&B markets during the 1960s.

Redding was born in Dawson, Georgia, and raised in Macon, and was heavily influenced as a young man by the shouting of Little Richard and the more restrained gospel delivery of Sam Cooke. Beginning his career working in small clubs and recording a handful of singles as a Little Richard sound-alike (such as "Shout Bamalama"), Redding joined Johnny Jenkins' band beginning in the late 1950s, continuing in an off-and-on fashion through the early 1960s. In 1962, when a recording session for Jenkins was going poorly, Redding used the time to step up to the microphone and use the studio band to record "These Arms of Mine," a number 20 R&B hit that established Redding as a solo artist. But his career really did not take off until the mid-1960s when his cover of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" and the Redding-penned "I've Been Loving You Too Long," "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)," and "Respect" all became top-forty hits.

His legendary sweat-drenched live shows on the so-called "chitlin' circuit" had already made him one of the most popular black solo artists of the 1960s among African American crowds, and his much-talked-about performance at the Monterey International Pop Festival helped to bring him to the attention of a wider (read "white") audience. By 1967, Redding was not only on the verge of crossing over to the pop market in a big way, but he was expanding his artistic horizons dramatically and redefining what soul music could sound like in the process. "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay" was the result of his experimentation, and it eventually went to number one on the Billboard pop charts, albeit posthumously. On December 10, 1967 Redding's plane went down near Madison, Wisconsin, killing Redding and four members of his back-up band, Stax recording artists the Bar-Kays.

—Kembrew McLeod

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