Otis Ray Redding, Jr. (September 9, 1941 – December 10, 1967) was an influential American deep soul singer, best known for his passionate delivery and posthumous hit single, "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay." Otis Redding was a giant in the genre, which blended rhythm and blues and gospel music. His reflective sensitivity in songs such as "Pain in my Heart" and "Mr. Pitiful" demonstrated a concern for reaching a spiritual reality through music. He sang about an observable physical world, but felt that there was also a spiritual world, a reality that reached deep into his understanding of the gospel and how music could unlock deep emotions and create resolutions.
Redding was born in the small town of Dawson, Georgia, to a sharecropping and farming family. At the age of 5, he moved with his family to Macon, Georgia, where his parents started a new life. His father worked as a laborer and maintenance man and his mother as a maid, selling Avon on the side to support their, large, ever growing brood. Redding, Sr. always had ambitions to be a Minister and eventually became a lay preacher, and was not approving of Otis wanting to sing rock and roll, "the devil's music." His parents were well liked and respected by the local community, whilst Otis ran with a fast crowd of local kids until music began to take all his time and attention. Otis, to begin with, sang in the choir of the Vineville Baptist Church, and played drums behind a gospel group. He soon became something of a local celebrity as a singing teenager. After winning a local Sunday night talent show, 15 weeks in a row, for which they paid five dollars per win, they eventually tired of paying him. He'd won with the Little Richard song "Heebie Jeebies." He idolized the flamboyant singer from Macon who was already recording hits, the first great rock and roller. Another singer from Macon was that other great soul singer, James Brown, who would soon hit with "Please, Please, Please." While his heroes made hit records, Otis worked odd jobs, a roofer among them, but was always singing, wherever he went. He finally went pro with a local group, Jazzbo Brown and the House Rockers, and the press began calling him "Otis Rocking Robin Redding."
In 1960, Redding began touring the South with Johnny Jenkins and The Pinetoppers. Johnny was an outrageous, left-handed guitarist who played the instrument upside down. He deeply inspired Jimi Hendricks, who incorporated a lot of Jenkins' moves into his own act in the future. That same year Otis made his first recordings, "She's All Right" and "Shout Bamalama," with this group under the name "Otis and The Shooters." It was realized then that he couldn't sing and dance at the same time so his style was to stand there and just shake his torso without moving his feet, whilst singing his heart out.
In 1962, he made his first real mark in the music business during a Johnny Jenkins session when he recorded "These Arms of Mine," a ballad that Redding had written. The song became a minor hit on Volt Records, a subsidiary of renowned Southern soul label Stax, based in Memphis, Tennessee. His manager and long time white friend, was Maconite Phil Walden (who later founded Capricorn Records). Otis Redding continued to release for Stax/Volt, and built his fanbase by extensively touring a legendarily electrifying live show, with support from fellow Stax artists Sam and Dave. Further hits between 1964 and 1966, included "Mr. Pitiful," "I Can't Turn You Loose" (to become The Blues Brothers entrance theme music), "Try a Little Tenderness," "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" (written by the Rolling Stones), and "Respect" (later a smash hit for Aretha Franklin).
Redding wrote many of his own songs, which was unusual for the time, often collaborating with Steve Cropper (of Stax house band Booker T & the MG's, who usually served as Otis' backing band in the studio). Soul singer Jerry Butler co-wrote another hit, "I've Been Loving You Too Long." One of his few songs with a significant mainstream following was "Tramp" (1967) with Carla Thomas. He and Carla were supposedly lovers and reportedly Otis planned to divorce his wife, Zelda, for her. In 1967, Redding played at the massively influential Monterey Pop Festival, which opened up the white pop music scene for him. Appearing at night and in the rain and winning everyone over with classics such as "Respect" and "Satisfaction" and the show stoppers, "Shake" and "Try A Little Tenderness." Wearing a shiny blue suit and pouring out every ounce of energy, he addressed the crowd, "This is the love crowd, right?!" They roared back their assent and approval.
Redding and six others, including four of the six members of Redding's backup band, The Bar-Kays, were killed when the plane crashed into Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin, on December 10, 1967. The two remaining members of The Bar-Kays were Ben Cauley and James Alexander. Cauley was the only person aboard Redding's plane to survive the crash; Alexander was on another plane.
Cauley reported that he had been asleep until just seconds before impact, and recalled that upon waking he saw bandmate Phalon Jones look out a window and say, "Oh, no!" Cauley said that he then unbuckled his seat belt, and that was his final recollection before finding himself in the frigid waters of the lake, grasping a seat cushion to keep himself afloat.
Redding's body was recovered the next day when the lake bed was dragged with a grappling hook, and footage exists of his body being brought out of the water. He was found strapped into his seat, in suit and tie, perfectly composed, at peace, it seemed. The cause of the crash was never precisely determined, and talk of sabotage was never substantiated.
Redding was 26 years old at the time of his death. He was laid to rest in a tomb on his private ranch in Round Oak, Georgia, 23 miles (37 km) north of Macon.
"(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay" was recorded only three days prior to Redding's death. It was released the next month and became his first #1 single and first million-seller. The fact that "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay" ultimately became Redding's greatest commercial success was unexpected, to most, not only because its release came after his death, but also because the song is actually a significant stylistic departure from the bulk of his other work, including acoustic guitar, sound mixes of seagulls and ocean, and his whistling of the coda. However, he himself had predicted, correctly, that this was the greatest song and recording of his career.
A few further records were posthumously released, including "Hard to Handle" (1968).
Drummer Mickey Jones has related a meeting between Redding and Bob Dylan in which Dylan played his new song "Just Like a Woman" for Redding. According to Jones, Redding was very impressed and told Dylan that he would record the song as soon as he could. However, Redding was killed before he could accomplish this.
Redding's sons Dexter and Otis III, together with cousin Mark Locket, founded the funk/disco-band "The Reddings" in 1978. One of them said that he "could never pretend to be as good as his father, who was a genius."
In 2002, the city of Macon honored its native son, unveiling a memorial statue of Redding in the city's Gateway Park.
In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him #21 on their list of the 100 greatest artists of all time.
In 2005, a sample from "It's Too Late" appeared on the track "Gone," by Kanye West.
A likeness of Redding appears as an evil version of himself in Nightmares & Dreamscapes, in the story, "You Know They Got a Hell of a Band." Redding is portrayed as a police officer in the town of Rock N Roll Heaven, which is populated by late rock and roll legends.
The legacy of Otis Redding can be heard in his uplifting of the soul music genre into an emotional and sensitive vehicle which spoke not only of the observable physical world, but also of a spiritual reality which put harmony and peace into a song, such as "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay." The reflective and delicate nature of Redding's songs demonstrated that he was indeed a giant in soul music. He also showed the way to a newer and fresher, more integrated form of music.
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