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Otis Ray Redding, Jr. (September 9, 1941 – December 10, 1967) was an American singer and songwriter, record producer, arranger and talent scout. He is considered one of the greatest singers in popular music and a major artist in soul music and rhythm and blues. His singing style has been influential among the soul artists of 1960’s and helped exemplify the Stax Sound. After appearing at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, he wrote and recorded “(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 after his death in a plane crash. The Dock of the Bay became the first posthumous album to reach number one on the UK Albums Chart.
Born and raised in Georgia, United States, Redding left school at age 15 to support his family by working with Little Richard’s backing band, the Upsetters and by performing at talent shows for prize money. In 1958, he joined Johnny Jenkins’ band, the Pine toppers, and toured the Southern United States as driver and musician. An unscheduled appearance on a Stax Records 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 the broader American pop music audience. He and his group first played small gigs in the South, then played for the first time in the western United States, at the Whisky a Go Go. Redding later performed in Paris, London and other European cities. His premature death devastated Stax, already on the verge of bankruptcy. The label soon discovered that Atlantic Records owned the rights to Redding’s entire 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. He received the honorific “King of Soul”. Among his most well-known songs are “Respect” and “Try a Little Tenderness”.
Redding was born in Dawson, Georgia to gospel singer Otis Redding, Sr., and housekeeper Fannie Redding. His father worked as a sharecropper, at Robins Air Force Base and as a part-time preacher. When Redding was three, the family moved to Tindall Heights, a predominantly African American public housing project in nearby Macon. For a short time they lived in a small house in Bellevue, a neighborhood in west Macon. That house burned down and the family moved back to Tindall. At an early age, he 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. His passion was singing, and he often cited Little Richard and Sam Cooke as main influences. He once 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.”
At age 15, Redding abandoned school to help his family financially. His father had contracted tuberculosis and was often hospitalized, leaving his mother as the family’s primary financial provider. He later worked as a well digger, gas station attendant and guest musician in the following years. Another inspiration for Redding was pianist Gladdy Williams, a well-known Macon musician. She often performed at Hillview Springs Social Club, where he sometimes played piano with her bands. When she hosted talent shows on Sundays, Redding accompanied his friends from the neighborhood, such as Little Willie Jones and bassist Eddie Ross.
Around the time when his tonsils were removed, Redding doubted he would ever be able to sing, but his father encouraged him. Redding’s breakthrough in 1958 performed on disc jockey Hamp Swain’s “The Teenage Party”, a music contest at the Roxy and Douglass Theatres. As his backing band was not professional, gig attendee Johnny Jenkins offered help. Redding sang Little Richard’s “Heebie Jeebies”. The combination enabled him to win the $5 singing contest for 15 consecutive weeks. Jenkins later worked as lead guitarist and played with Redding during several gigs. Soon afterwards, he was invited to replace Willie Jones, front man of Pat T. Cake and the Mighty Panthers, featuring Jenkins. He was soon hired by the Up setters as Richard abandoned rock and roll in favour of gospel music. Redding was well paid at about $25 per gig, but did not stay for 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, he moved to Los Angeles with his sister, Deborah, and wrote his first songs including “She’s Allright”, “Tuff Enuff” “Gamma Lamma” and “Gettin’ Hip”, which was his first composition to be released as a single.
A member of Pat T. Cake and the Mighty Panthers, Redding toured the Southern United States on theChitlin’ circuit. These venues were the only ones available for African American musicians during the era of racial segregation that lasted into the early 1960s. 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 Confederate Records, a small label. 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 a Stax studio in Memphis. Redding drove Jenkins to the session, as the latter did not have a driver’s license. Jenkins performed with Booker T. & the M.G.’s. The session ended early and 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 noting, “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 on Volt on October 1962, but charted in March the following year. It became one of his most successful songs, selling more than 800,000 copies.
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