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Artist: Otis Redding

Otis Redding

Bio

Otis Redding (Otis Ray Redding Jr., September 9, 1941 – December 10, 1967) was an American, highly influential, rhythm & blues and soul singer, and songwriter. He is considered one of the greatest singers in the history of American popular music and a seminal artist in soul music and rhythm and blues. His singing style influenced many other soul artists of the 1960s. During his lifetime, his recordings were produced by Stax Records, based in Memphis, Tennessee, and exemplify the sound of Stax. Redding received many posthumous accolades, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In addition to "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay," "Respect" and "Try a Little Tenderness" are among his best-known songs. Redding was born in the small town of Dawson, Georgia. When he was 5, his family moved to Macon, Georgia. Redding sang in the choir at church, and as a teenager won the talent show at the Douglass Theatre for 15 weeks in a row. His early influences were Little Richard and Sam Cooke. Richard Pennyman (Little Richard) was also a Macon resident. Redding said, "If it hadn't been for Little Richard, I would not be here. 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. My present music has a lot of him in it." In 1960, Redding began touring the South with Johnny Jenkins and The Pinetoppers. In addition to singing, Redding also served as Jenkins' driver since the bandleader did not possess a driver's license. That same year he made his first recordings, "Fat Gal" and "Shout Bamalama" with this group under the name "Otis Redding and The Pinetoppers" Issued on the Orbit and Confederate record labels before being picked up by King. In 1962, Redding made his first real mark in the music business during a Johnny Jenkins session when, during studio time left over, he recorded "These Arms of Mine", a ballad that he had written. The song became a minor hit. on Volt Records, a subsidiary of the renowned Southern soul label Stax, based in Memphis, Tennessee. Along with others such as Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd and Carla Thomas, Redding was a key exponent of the raw and electrifyin
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Otis Redding Rock 100, Jan 1977

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"I FIRST MET HIM IN 1962," SAYS STEVE Cropper who co-wrote two of Otis's hits, 'Fa, Fa, Fa, Fa, Fa' and 'Dock Of The Bay', and arranged and played on most of his sessions. "At the time Otis was sort of a road manager, singer and driver for Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers. They'd come up to Memphis to cut a bunch of sides and Otis was just sitting in a corner of the studio all day long and every once in a while he'd get up and say, 'Man I sure would like to cut a song!' So after we'd finished cutting Jenkins there was about 40 minutes left and we said 'OK let's see what this guy's got'."

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Thus almost accidentally began the rise of possibly the greatest and most loved soul singer of the sixties. The song was 'These Arms Of Mine', which Otis had written two years before, and which ended up selling some 800,000 copies. It was not only the beginning for Otis, but of a new funky Memphis-based soul sound that came out of an experimental mix of gospel, the laid-back but punchy R & B of Stax-Volt instrumental groups, Booker T and the MG's and the alternating current of the Markeys' horns, and opened the door for Sam and Dave, Arthur Conley and numerous other soul singers.

In contrast to the smooth urban soul of Motown or Gamble and Huff, Otis developed a rougher unrehearsed style that was effective just because it was so unfiltered. What he put down on record was what actually took place in the studio (Stax-Volt, Otis' record company, had only mono equipment up until 1966). The immediacy of a song like 'Respect' derives in part from being written in a day, arranged in 20 minutes and recorded on the first take. Otis was known to cut an entire album in a couple of days, capturing his high voltage energy on the spot. "When I go into a studio to record a song," Otis said of his approach, "I only have a title and maybe a first verse. The rest I make up as we're recording. We'll cut three or four times and I'll sing it different every time... we cut everything together, horns, rhythm and vocal, cut six songs in five hours." This spontaneous method had a huge influence on both soul and white rock. Following Otis, Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett came to Memphis to record many of their biggest hits with the Stax rhythm group to achieve that laid-back sound, and subsequently the Allman Brothers and the Rolling Stones followed them to get some of those Memphis licks to stick to them.

Although many of Otis' songs were raw and hard driving, the impression his records leave is one of a gentle singer; his ear was subtly tuned in what producer Willie Mitchell calls "Memphis time," what became the trademark of Stax-Volt sound. "The time here," Mitchell told Rolling Stone, "isn't so much a metronome; it's more personal. Even the singers ... all sang lazy ... if you remember Otis Redding's records, they'd be playing behind the tempo just a little bit and all of a sudden everybody...would kind of sway."

Otis was as effective on fast songs as he was on ballads. The B side of his first hit, 'Hey, Hey, Hey', is typical of the proved, shouting, Little Richard style Otis started out with and later converted into the breathless energy of numbers like Sam Cooke's 'Shake' and 'I Can't Turn You Loose'. Otis idolized Little Richard (they both came from Macon, Georgia) and from the almost pure little Richard imitation of 'Shout Bamalama' that he recorded for Bethlehem in 1960, he slowly evolved a fluid intimate style combined with anguished rasping vocals that characterize singles like 'Mr. Pitiful', 'Respect' and 'I've Been Loving You Too Long', cut in 1964 and 1965. It was the tightness of the Stax-Volt bands that he recorded with – Duck Dunn's looping baselines, the subtle splicings of Steve Cropper's guitar and the Markeys' surging riffs – that helped him to develop his distinctive style of skipping every alternate beat and then coming down hard on it.

Otis' version of the Rolling Stones' 'Satisfaction' (a song heavily influenced by his own idiosyncratic drawnout phrasing) was almost a parody of this Gotta-gotta-gotta style of singing, but it got him his first exposure on pop stations. In 1965 and 1966 he had a number of top 40 hits – 'I've Been Loving You Too Long' with its tremulous, reverential vocal floating on a slow soaring rhythm, 'Fa, Fa, Fa, Fa, Fa' and the plangent and pleading, 'Try A Little Tenderness' – but it wasn't until his appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 that he began to break through to a pop audience. The same year he displaced Elvis as top male vocalist on the Melody Maker poll and was on his way to establishing himself as the Crown Prince of Soul when a chartered plane he was traveling in crashed into an icy Wisconsin lake.

One of Otis' ambitions was to fill the vacuum left by Sam Cooke's death in 1964, and in spite of the hard-driving quality of many of his songs it was the fundamental gentleness that he shared with Cooke that distinguished him from most urban soul singers. Otis did not start out in gospel but developed a blend of gospel and R & B that gave his songs their convincing quality and sustained momentum. More than any other soul singer, Otis managed to communicate the intimate, encouraging, sustaining power of gospel and translate its fundamental faith into an international emotional code. One of the reasons he was successful lay in his own personality; a vulnerability that projected through all his vocals made him accessible to both black and white audiences, where more aggressive singers like James Brown and Wilson Pickett could not reach.

'Dock Of The Bay' was Otis' first number-one record, but he did not live to see it climb the charts. Its wistful lyrics, gentle lilting motion and refined tension make it the essence of his art and life to which his death lent a special poignancy. It was a country mellowness that made his songs especially eloquent and universal. As Steve Cropper told Hit Parader: "My original feeling for Otis wound up to be my final feeling, he was a pure man. His love for people showed in his songs. He was always trying to get back to his baby – or he missed her, she was the greatest thing in the world. His approach was always positive."

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Top Albums

The Dock of the Bay cover art

The Dock of the Bay

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Pain in My Heart cover art

Pain in My Heart

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Top Songs

Try a Little Tenderness cover art

Try a Little Tenderness

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These Arms of Mine cover art

These Arms of Mine

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Respect cover art

Respect

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Pain In My Heart cover art

Pain In My Heart

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Stand by Me cover art

Stand by Me

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