Celebrating the life of the legendary Otis Redding

Otis was born 77 years ago on this day

Celebrating the life of the legendary Otis Redding

Otis Redding was born Otis Redding Ray Jr. on September 9th, 1941 in Dawson, Georgia. Otis is one of the most influential soul music singers of all time and one of the main responsibility to project Soul music to the mainstream back in the 60’s when he successfully brought Soul and Rock music fans together. Redding’s style of singing gained inspiration from the gospel music, born and raised in the US state of Georgia, Redding quit school at age 15 to support his family, working with Little Richard’s backing band, the Upsetters, and performing at talent shows for prize money. In 1958, he joined Johnny Jenkins’s band, the Pinetoppers, with whom he toured the Southern states as a singer and driver. An unscheduled appearance on a Stax recording session led to a contract and his first single, “These Arms of Mine”, in 1962. At an early age, Redding sang in the Vineville Baptist Church choir and learned guitar and piano. From age 10, he took drum and singing lessons. During the start of his professional music career, as a member of Pat T. Cake and the Mighty Panthers, Redding toured the Southern United States on the chitlin’ circuit, a string of venues that were hospitable to African-American entertainers during the era of racial segregation, which lasted into the early 1960s. He often cited Little Richard and Sam Cooke as influences. Redding said that he “would not be here” without Little Richard and that he “entered the music business because of Richard – he is my inspiration. I used to sing like Little Richard, his Rock ‘n’ Roll stuff… My present music has a lot of him in it.” Aside from being a talented and charismatic singer, Redding was also a notable composer, he started to compose his own songs at an early stage of his career and  by 1965, with 24,  he already had composed and released absolute classics such as “These Arms of Mine”, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and “Respect”. Otis was frequently backed by the famous band Booker T. & the M.G.’s (“Green Onions”) on stage and studio. After spending the first half of the 60’s trying to make a name for himself despite being popular in the Soul music circuits and with already numerous  released singles and 3 albums “Pain In My Heart” , “The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads” and “Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul”, it wasn’t until 1965 with this original song “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” that reached number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number two on the Billboard Rhythm & Blues chart and in 1966 with his version of the 1930’s song “Try a Little Tenderness” (produced by Isaac Hayes and  backed by the Booker T. & the M.G.’s) that he peaked at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100 that Otis career started to progress in the mainstream direction.

Recognition, Monterey Pop Festival and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”

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In 1966 Otis does his first European tour, when his crew arrives in London when his crew arrived in London, the Beatles sent a limousine to pick them up. During that same year, he is booked by Bill Graham to play at the Fillmore Auditorium. The gig was commercially and critically successful and introduces Otis music to new audiences. With a circle of admirers and fans such as Bob Dylan, Otis became in 1967 one of the most acclaimed artists, he successfully shifted his career direction and blend music fans from several genres together. He gets a real taste of it when he’s invited to play the Monterey Pop Festival during that year, a festival that consisted mainly of Rock and Pop acts. At the time, he “had not been considered a commercially viable player in the mainstream white American market.” yet,  but after delivering one of the most electric performances of the night, and having been the act to most involve the audience, “his performance at Monterey Pop was therefore a natural progression from local to national acclaim. His act included his own song “Respect” and a version of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.” Redding and his backing band (Booker T. & the M.G.’s with the Mar-Keys horn section) opened with “Cooke’s “Shake”, after which he delivered an impulsive speech, asking the audience if they were the “love crowd” and looking for a big response. The ballad “I’ve Been Loving You” followed. The last song was “Try a Little Tenderness”, including an additional chorus. “I got to go, Y’all, I don’t wanna go”, said Redding and left the stage of his last major concert. According to Booker T. Jones, “I think we did one of our best shows, Otis and the MG’s. That we were included in that was also something of a phenomenon. That we were there? With those people? They were accepting us and that was one of the things that really moved Otis. He was happy to be included and it brought him a new audience. It was greatly expanded in Monterey.” Still, in 1967 he puts out the duet album with Carla Thomas “King & Queen”, that proved to be one of his most successful albums, an instant classic, regarded today as highly influential. The album featured songs such as “Knock On Wood”, “It Takes Two”, “Lovey Dovey” and “Tramp” among others. But despite all that, Otis still wanted to reach a wider range of audiences and to experiment more with music styles against the wishes of his record label Stax, as a composer he didn’t want to get stuck just or associated with just one genre. Inspired by “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts” club band he started working on new music and together with Steve Cropper writes “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” that became for many his signature song.  Otis died with only 26 years old in a plane crash on December 10th, 1967  at the peak of his career. After his death, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was released and became one of his best selling songs. His influence in music cannot be disregarded in many musical genres, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, The Doors (who tribute Otis in their 1969 song “Runnin’ Blue” that starts with Jim Morrison’s poem “Poor Otis Dead And Gone”) are just very few of those who have been and continue to be inspired by Otis, and it can be said that even if he left too soon, he accomplished on his 26 years of life his musical goal, which was to be part of a wider music community and to have his music recognized as a free form of expression not associated to a particular style.  The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Redding in 1989, declaring his name to be “synonymous with the term soul, music that arose out of the black experience in America through the transmutation of gospel and rhythm and blues into a form of funky, secular testifying.

Watch the historical Otis Redding live performance at the Monterey Pop Festival 1967

 

Listen to some of Otis Redding greatest songs compiled by Pop Expresso on Spotify

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