Personalities | Otis Redding | Sixties | Rock

Georgia’s finest soul son, Otis Redding’s story encapsulates the history of soul music. He was a hard-working performer with special gifts who became a role model of dedication and success, an icon for his African-American peers.

In the process he also won the hearts of the white audience with his music, and, by the simple act of singing, played a major role in breaking down racial barriers.

Early Breaks

Otis Redding was born on 9 September 1941, the son of a minister and learned to sing in the gospel choirs of Vineville Baptist Church. By the late 1950s, he was fronting The Upsetters, Little Richard’s former backing band; they won the $5 cash prize at the local talent contest so often that they were barred from competing.

In 1960, he started working as a driver (and occasional singer) for Johnny Jenkins and The Pinetoppers. Everything changed in 1962 when he drove Jenkins to an audition in Memphis with Stax Records. With time to spare in the session, Otis was allowed to sing a couple himself, including his own composition ‘These Arms Of Mine’. That song persuaded Stax president Jim Stewart to sign him at once to the label’s Volt subsidiary. Later featured in the film Dirty Dancing (1987), it became Otis’ first hit, climbing to No. 20 in the R&B chart in 1963.

Recording with Stax house band Booker T. And The M.G.s, Redding was from the start equally popular in Europe, and The Rolling Stones were early fans, recording two Redding songs ‘Pain In My Heart’ and ‘That’s How Strong My Love Is’.

Finding His Voice

1965’s ‘Mr Pitiful’ saw Redding start to make inroads into the pop charts too. Many hits were self-penned, a mixture of towering soul ballads and harder-rocking R&B work-outs. Working within traditional R&B forms, he exploited The M.G.s’ muscular horn arrangements and deep, tight rhythm section, and his own strong, pure, classically soulful singing. In 1966, his songwriting talents matured on not one but two classic albums.

Otis Blue (1965), his response to the shooting the previous year of his idol Sam Cooke, included future soul standards ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ and ‘Respect’ (written by Redding with Stax house guitarist Steve Cropper), and milestone reworkings of the Sam Cooke hit ‘Shake’ and The Rolling Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’ (written by the Stones in imitation of his style).

Next came Complete And Unbelievable (1966) whose hits included ‘Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)’, ‘My Lover’s Prayer’ and the song for ever associated with Redding’s impassioned heart-wrenching soul voice, ‘Try A Little Tenderness’. In December he ended Elvis Presley’s 10-year run in the annual Melody Maker Poll by being voted Best International Male Vocalist.

Meanwhile, Otis Redding was building a formidable name as a live performer: he delivered his songs with the fervour of a gospel preacher, and he had dance moves to rival James Brown. Early in 1967, he came to Britain with the Stax Revue, whose line-up included...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock, general editor Michael Heatley


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