Roy Black | A dynamic Otis Redding rocks R&B, soul music
Perhaps the most dynamic act in the history of R&B soul music was symbolised and demonstrated by Otis Redding between 1963 and 1967. Surprisingly, though, Redding's early developmental career was heavily influenced by a rock and roll screamer named Little Richard.
Adopting a Little Richard singing style, Redding recorded in 1961 for Bethlehem Records his self-penned Little Richard-style song, Shout Bamalama, which didn't create much of an impact. Redding, in fact, gained early valuable experience when he joined Richard's band, The Upsetters, after dropping out of high school at age 15. It was a deliberate attempt to assist his family financially and to break himself free from his childhood poverty.
Born into a poor family in Dawson, Georgia USA, on September 9, 1941, Redding was raised in another section of the state called Macon. It was there that his musical inclinations began at age five, as a chorister in his preacher father's Baptist Church. Displaying initiative, even at that tender age, Redding soon formed his own youth gospel choir, and before exiting his pre-teen years, he had taught himself drums, piano and guitar by playing along to a stack of 45 RPM records in his home. After being influenced by the frenetic rock and roll of his idol (Little Richard), Redding formed an R&B band, and against the wishes of his highly religious father, went full-time into secular music. He, however, managed to maintain his ties with the church, playing drums for a local gospel group.
Redding's next move was to compete in several local talent shows, but after winning more than a dozen times, he was barred from re-entering. He then turned his attention to the nightclub circuit, where he met guitarist Johnny Jenkins and his Pinetoppers group in 1958 and joined them as lead vocalist. The meeting would later prove to be a major turning point in Redding's career. Performing on and off with the group, Redding drove with them to Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee, for a recording session in October of 1962. Unexpectedly, the session ended early, thus creating some free studio time for Redding to record a couple of his self-penned solo pieces that he had in his possession. The first was the Little Richard-sounding Hey Hey Baby, while the second was a departure from anything Redding had previously done. It was a soulful gospel-styled tearjerker titled These Arms of Mine, that many musicologists place at the top of their soul list. While performing the recording on stage, Redding would oftentimes be overcome by his emotions as he sang:
"These arms of mine, they are lonely,
lonely and feeling blue.
These arms of mine, they are yearning,
yearning from wanting you.
And if you would let them hold you
oh how grateful I would be.
These arms of mine, they are burning
burning from wanting you.
These arms of mine, they are wanting
Wanting to hold you.
And if you would let them hold you,
oh how grateful I will be."
The recording reached the top 10 of both the US and UK charts. His performance also earned him a recording contract with the powerful recording company Stax Records, whose quality performers could only be matched at the time by those at Motown Records.
Redding followed up with the classic slow ballad Pain in my Heart, which became the title of his first album on the Volt record label, a subsidiary of Stax Records. These early recordings helped to establish Redding as one of the most popular soul artistes on the black touring circuit of the south. His emotion-gripping Georgia-hewn style became the epitome of the Stax/Volt Memphis sound of the 1960s. As a vocalist, songwriter and arranger, Redding played a pivotal role in helping to shape the organisation, having been its most outstanding performer. He was, in fact continuing the rich tradition of R&B soul and soul music that began with teachers like James Brown, Sam Cooke, Solomon Burke, Lavern Baker and Aretha Franklin, dubbed The Queen of soul.
In one of soul music's most haunting melodies, Redding knock pens with Jerry Butler to create I've been loving you too long in 1965. In the recording, Redding took soul music to another level, as he sang in his inimitable style:
"I've been loving you too long to stop now
You are tired and you want to be free
My love is growing stronger, as you become a habit to me
Ohh, I've been loving you too long
I don't wanna stop now."
Other popular tracks by Redding included Try a Little Tenderness, My Lover's Prayer, Respect, Come to Me and Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.
Perhaps the part of Redding's career that drew most attention was his stage appearances around the world. His energy, excitement, dexterity with a microphone and his general showmanship were matched by very few in the entertainment business. Possessing the rare gift of being able to reach audiences (both blacks and whites), Redding's concert tours were among the biggest box office successes of any performer during his time.
Backed by Stax house band - Booker T. and The MGs, he made his greatest impact at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 when he overwhelmed and mesmerised a predominantly white crowd. That year proved to be very good and very bad for him: He launched his own record label - Jotis. He released some of his biggest hits, including Tramp - (in duet with Carla Thomas); Shake - a successful cover of Sam Cooke's original, and the immortal, pop-flavoured Sitting on The Dock of The Bay - an apparent premonition of his impending disaster. Recorded with splashing waves, the recording was Redding's final and biggest hit. It created history when it made him the first recording artiste to score a posthumous No.1 single, and went further by attracting two Grammy awards in 1968. Redding died at age 26, when his private airplane, while en route to a show in Madison, lost power and fell into the icy waters of Lake Monoma, near Madison Airport, on December 10, 1967.