The Talented Otis Redding Part One
Otis Ray Redding, Jr. (September 9, 1941 – December 10, 1967) was an American singer, songwriter, record producer, arranger, and talent scout. 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.
Otis Redding in January 1967
Otis Ray Redding, Jr.
Also known as
* The Big O
* The Mad Man from Macon
* Rockhouse Redding
* The King of Soul
September 9, 1941
Dawson, Georgia, U.S.
December 10, 1967 (aged 26)
Madison, Wisconsin, U.S.
* Soul R&B
* Singer-songwriter musician
* Stax Volt Atco Rhino Sundazed
* The Upsetters The Pinetoppers Booker T. & the M.G.’s The Bar-Kays Carla Thomas
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.
Stax released Redding’s debut album, Pain in My Heart, two years later. Initially popular mainly with African-Americans, Redding later reached a wider American pop music audience. Along with his group, he first played small gigs in the American South. He later performed at the popular Los Angeles night club Whisky a Go Go and toured Europe, performing in London, Paris and other major cities. He also performed at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.
Shortly before his death in a plane crash, Redding wrote and recorded his iconic “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” with Steve Cropper. The song became the first posthumous number-one record on both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts. The album The Dock of the Bay was the first posthumous album to reach number one on the UK Albums Chart. Redding’s premature death devastated Stax. Already on the verge of bankruptcy, the label soon discovered that Atlantic Records owned the rights to his entire song catalog.
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 Dawson, Georgia, the fourth of six children, and the first son, of Otis Redding, Sr., and Fannie Mae Redding. Redding senior was a sharecropper and then worked at Robins Air Force Base, near Macon, and occasionally preached in local churches. When Otis was three the family moved to Tindall Heights, a predominantly African-American public housing project in Macon. 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. At Ballard-Hudson High School, he sang in the school band. Every Sunday he earned $6 by performing gospel songs for Macon radio station WIBB, and he won the $5 prize in a teen talent show for 15 consecutive weeks. His passion was singing, and 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.”
At age 15, Redding left school to help financially support his family; his father had contracted tuberculosis and was often hospitalized, leaving his mother as the family’s primary income earner. He worked as a well digger, as a gasoline station attendant and occasionally as a musician. Pianist Gladys Williams, a locally well-known musician in Macon and another who inspired Redding, often performed at the Hillview Springs Social Club, and Redding sometimes played piano with her band there. Williams hosted Sunday talent shows, which Redding attended with two friends, singers Little Willie Jones and Eddie Ross.
Redding’s breakthrough came in 1958 on disc jockey Hamp Swain’s “The Teenage Party,” a talent contest at the local Roxy and Douglass Theatres. Johnny Jenkins, a locally prominent guitarist, was in the audience and, finding Redding’s backing band lacking in musical skills, offered to accompany him. Redding sang Little Richard’s “Heebie Jeebies.” The combination enabled Redding to win Swain’s talent contest for fifteen consecutive weeks; the cash prize was $5. Jenkins later worked as lead guitarist and played with Redding during several later gigs. Redding was soon invited to replace Willie Jones as frontman of Pat T. Cake and the Mighty Panthers, featuring Johnny Jenkins. Redding was then hired by the Upsetters when Little Richard abandoned rock and roll in favor of gospel music. Redding was well paid, making about $25 per gig, but did not stay long.
At age 19, Redding met 15-year-old Zelma Atwood at “The Teenage Party.” She gave birth to their son Dexter in the summer of 1960 and married Redding in August 1961. In mid-1960, Otis moved to Los Angeles with his sister, Deborah, while Zelma and Otis’ children stayed in Macon, Georgia. In Los Angeles Redding wrote his first songs, including “She’s Allright,” “Tuff Enuff,” “I’m Gettin’ Hip” and “Gamma Lamma” (which he recorded as a single in 1962, under the title “Shout Bamalama”).
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. Johnny Jenkins left the band to become the featured artist with the Pinetoppers. Around this time, Redding met Phil Walden, the future founder of the recording company Phil Walden and Associates, and later Bobby Smith, who ran the small label Confederate Records. He signed with Confederate and recorded his second single, “Shout Bamalama” (a rewrite of “Gamma Lamma”) and “Fat Girl”, together with his band Otis and the Shooters. Around this time he and the Pinetoppers attended a “Battle of the Bands” show in Lakeside Park. Wayne Cochran, the only solo artist signed to Confederate, became the Pinetoppers’ bassist.
When Walden started to look for a record label for Jenkins, Atlantic Records representative Joe Galkin showed interest and around 1962 sent him to the Stax studio in Memphis. Redding drove Jenkins to the session, as the latter did not have a driver’s license. The session with Jenkins, backed by Booker T. & the M.G.’s, was unproductive and ended early; Redding was allowed to perform two songs. The first was “Hey Hey Baby”, which studio chief Jim Stewart thought sounded too much like Little Richard. The second was “These Arms of Mine”, featuring Jenkins on piano and Steve Cropper on guitar. Stewart later praised Redding’s performance, saying, “Everybody was fixin’ to go home, but Joe Galkin insisted we give Otis a listen. There was something different about [the ballad]. He really poured his soul into it.” Stewart signed Redding and released “These Arms of Mine”, with “Hey Hey Baby” on the B-side. The single was released by Volt in October 1962 and charted in March the following year. It became one of his most successful songs, selling more than 800,000 copies.