The late Otis Redding was one of the popular artists during the 60s music era. He is now one of oldies music’s legends, and his influence cannot be denied, even almost 50 years after his untimely death. He was a soul and R&B singer-songwriter who was known as “the voice of soul music” during his time. Redding is considered one of the most influential and seminal figures in soul, R&B and pop music with his unique emotional and powerful singing style. At only 26 years old, Redding died on the plane crash in late 1967 during the time he was at the peak of his career. Ironically, it was after his death that his song “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B singles chart early the following year, and since then it has been Redding’s signature recording. More on Otis Redding here in this article.
Early life and career
Otis Ray Redding Jr. was born in Dawson, Georgia on September 9, 1941, the fourth of six children and the first son of Otis Redding Sr., who was a sharecropper and an occasional preacher. When he was three, the family moved to Macon, Georgia.
Like many other African-American youngsters during his generation, Redding developed a passion for music while participating in their local church choir. When Redding was 15, his father had been suffering tuberculosis and often went in and out of the hospital. This left his mother to become the primary breadwinner. The hardships forced the teenaged Redding to quit school in order to financially support his family.
Aside from his day jobs, Redding also performed as a musician. His break came in 1958 when he won at a local talent contest hosted by disc jockey Hamp Swain. For fifteen straight weeks Redding came out as a recurring winner of that contest. It was then where he began working with a locally renowned guitarits Johnny Jenkins, and the two would eventually perform together, usually in Jenkins’ own band the Pinetoppers. It was also Jenkins who helped launch Redding’s career.
In 1960 Redding relocated to Los Angeles, California where he started releasing singles. He moved back to Georgia the following year and continued to release singles like “Shout Bamalama.”
He and Jenkins’ the Pinetoppers started their recording sessions at Stax in Memphis, Tennessee. During one of their recording sessions Jenkins recorded his self-penned ballad “These Arms of Mine” which would become his first single. It reached #85 on the Billboard pop chart and #20 on the R&B singles chart in 1963, and sold over 800,000 copies.
Otis Redding eventually gained popularity at Stax for the energy that usually displayed when inside the studio. In 1965, he recorded the LP Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul in just a day. One of the album’s songs, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (to Stop Now),” was written by Redding and Jerry Butler; it reached #21 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 on the R&B singles chart, becoming one of Redding’s popular recordings.
He also recorded a duet album with singer Carla Thomas (the daughter of Rufus Thomas) titled King & Queen in 1967. Also released on Stax, the album went on to become certified gold. That same year, Redding also produced “Sweet Soul Music” by Arthur Conley, which became a #2 hit.
The successes eventually made Redding financially comfortable, and he bought a 300-acre ranch which he called “Big O Ranch.” He also started his own label Jotis. Redding was the picture of a self-made man who was extremely successful, which was quite rare for an African-American during his time — he was also a successful businessman who had a good taste for clothes and shoes (and he owned over a hundred pairs of them!). Stax was also doing great as well, reaping the benefits of its own success.
Apart from his recordings and production work, Redding also gained fame for his magnetic stage presence, which was clearly seen when he performed at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967. His performance there was enthusiastically greeted by the audience, and became successful.
Death, and posthumous hit “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay”
On December 6, 1967, Redding recorded “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” at Stax. He had written the song with Steven Cropper while spending time with their friend in Sausalito. The sound presented a more different sound compared to his previous recordings. Despite the song meeting with disapproval of Stax colleagues and even of his wife, Redding nevertheless believed that the song will top the charts.
Redding’s prediction that “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay” would prove correct. But unfortunately, he would not be around to see the song’s success.
On December 10, 1967, four days after recording the song, Redding and the four members of his backing band the Bar-Kays perished after their chartered plane crashed into Lake Morona in Wisconsin.
All eight but Bar-Kays member Ben Cauley perished in the crash. The casualties also included their pilot and their valet. Redding was only 26 years old when he died.
His death sent shockwaves across the country; Redding’s funeral was attended by over 4,500 mourners. Stax was also devastated by his untimely demise as it was already on the financial rocks. The label soon discovered that Atlantic Records owned Redding’s entire catalog.
“(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” was released in January 1968. And just like what Redding himself predicted, the song made to #1 on both the Billboard pop and R&B singles chart. It sold over four million copies all over the world. It is Redding’s only number one single, and it was also the first time in US music history a posthumous song made it to #1.
“(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay” became a major influence in the 1960s soul movement by blending the elements of R&B with folk.
Redding was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. Ten years later he was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Grammy Awards.