By Todd Beebe
Dec.10, 2013, marked the 46th year of the passing of Otis Redding. Otis’ name may not be the first to come to mind when people speak of great blues singers, but make no mistake, he’s influenced more blues singers than you can count.
Redding began to enter local talent shows around Macon, Georgia, and won so many at the Douglass Theatre, he was actually told that he could no longer enter. This certainly fueled his dreams for fame, and he hooked up with The Pinetoppers, which included guitarist Johnny Jenkins. Jenkins hired Otis to drive him to a session at Stax Records in Memphis in 1962. When the session ended, Redding asked if he could sing for anyone at Stax who would listen. Stax owner Jim Stewart asked house guitarist Steve Cropper of Booker T. and the MG’s to take a moment to give a listen to the eager Otis Redding. Cropper remembers being asked to play “church chords” on the piano for a simple accompaniment, while Otis opened up into an original of his, “These Arms of Mine.” Cropper has said when he heard that voice the hair stood up on his arms and a star was discovered.
Redding began recording for Stax and became great friends with Cropper. The two spent hours writing now legendary tunes that would come to define soul music: “Respect,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” “Pain In My Heart,” “Security,” “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember,” “Try A Little Tenderness,” and more set Otis’ name in stone as an iconic performer.
“Dock Of The Bay” was very reflective and thoughtful, and Otis told everyone around him that this was the song that was going to lead to his breakthrough
In 1967 Redding took the Stax house band of Booker T. & The MG’s on a package tour of Europe. The tour also featured Eddie Floyd, Arthur Conley, and Sam & Dave. The artists on the bill were treated like the rightful stars they had become. The Europeans loved soul, and this was the real deal, straight from the source.
In 1967, Otis was asked to perform at The Monterey International Pop Festival. Among the acts on the bill was Jimi Hendrix, who made his “American comeback” with his famous guitar burning performance. The Festival proved an eye opener, making 1967 a year critics would forever point to as a turning point for American music. As equally as impressive as Hendrix’ set was the one from Otis Redding. This was the first time he had been exposed to a young, mostly hippie audience, many of whom had never heard his music before – and they loved it. Otis had the young crowd in the palm of his hand.
Otis wanted to connect even more with this new crowd. He enjoyed playing cover versions of the Stones’ “Satisfaction” and the Beatles “Day Tripper.” He now found himself listening to albums like “Sgt. Pepper” and wanted to add some of that influence to his song writing. The result was “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.” Otis thought it was the best thing he’d ever written. Many around him were surprised. This was a new direction for Otis. Those used to only hearing him beg and plead in his songs now heard another side to the man. “Dock Of The Bay” was very reflective and thoughtful, and Otis told everyone around him that this was the song that was going to lead to his breakthrough. The song was still unreleased, but he knew he had a big, big hit on his hands.
On December 10, 1967, Otis and his backing band, The Bar-Kays, boarded a plane headed for a show in Madison, Wisconsin. They never arrived. Otis’ plane crashed into the icy waters of Lake Monona, killing all but one in the small plane. The music world had lost an icon of music.
Many claim the name “king of soul,” but to me, that title belongs to Otis Redding
Steve Cropper had the sad task of having to mix “Dock Of The Bay” after Redding’s death. The song was released in January 1968 and proved that Otis’ predictions of a big hit were spot on. It has gone on to become one of the biggest songs of all time, and is still covered by artists of all styles today.
Many claim the name “king of soul,” but to me, that title belongs to Otis Redding. His influence on blues, rock, jazz, and even country are immeasurable. When anyone sings with every ounce of emotion they can pull from their soul, that’s Otis Redding. Thanks for the music, Otis.