"You' ve got to concentrate on the business of entertaining and writing songs. Always think differently from the next person. Don't ever do a song as you heard somebody else do it."
THE MAD MAN FROM MACON...
THE BEGINNING: A YOUNG BOY FROM MACON
Otis Redding was born Otis Ray Redding Jr. on September 9, 1941, in Dawson, Georgia. He was four out of six children to Fannie Roseman and the first son to Otis Redding Sr. His father was a sharecropper, but would later work at Robins Airbase near Macon, Georgia, Redding Sr. would also occasionally preach at the local churches in Macon. By the time Otis was three his family had moved to Tindell Heights, a predominately black housing project in Macon, around this age and his younger years, he would start singing at his church (Vineville Baptist Church) whilst also learning how to play the piano and guitar.
By the age of ten, Otis had started taking singing lessons at the local high school, Ballard-Hudson High School, and would sing in the school’s band. It was noted that he would “earn 6 dollars by performing gospel songs for Macon radio station WIBB.” When it came to his inspiration for singing, Redding often called Sam Cooke and Little Richard role models, stating, “I would not be here without Little Richard…I entered the music business because of Richard — he is my inspiration. I used to sing like Little Richard, his rock n roll stuff.. My present music has a lot of him in it.”
At the age of 15, Otis had to leave school to help support his family financially, his father had gotten extremely ill and was often hospitalized, which left his mother as the sole source of income. He worked many odd jobs such as a well- digger, a gasoline station attendant, and as a musician. Otis often played the piano for another performer in Macon called Gladys Williams at the Hillview Springs Social Club.
THE BIG BREAKTHROUGH — JOCKEYS AND JOHNNY JENKINS
Redding’s big break came in 1958 on disc jockey Hamp Swain’s “The Teenage Party” a talent contest that was hosted by Roxy and Douglass Theatres. Before Redding and his band got on stage a local guitarist named Johnny Jenkins noticed the lack of musical abilities and offered to accompany the rest of the band. The song he decided to sing was Little Richards, “Heebie Jeebies.” This combination had Redding winning the contest for fifteen consecutive weeks for the cash prize of 5 dollars (45 in today’s money). Redding would later go on and replace Willie Jones as the frontman in the band Pat. T Cake and the Mighty Panthers featuring Johnny Jenkins. He was later hired by the Upsetters when Little Richard left rock n roll and decided to go into the gospel genre, he was paid about 25 dollars per gig (225$ in today’s money).
EARLY CAREER - PAT. T CAKE AND THE PANTHERS AND ATLANTIC RECORDS
When Redding was a member of Pat T. Cake and the Panthers, he toured around the south on the Chillin circuit, at this time Johnny Jenkins left the panthers to become a featured artist with the Pinetoppers. During this time Redding was introduced to Phil Walden, who would be the future CEO of Phil Walden and associates, and later Bobby Smith who was in charge of a small label called Confederate labels. Redding would sign with Confederate labels and produce a single called “Shout Bamalama” which was a remake of Gamma Lamma and “Fat Girl”, together with his own band called Otis and the shooters.
Reddings was only able to get signed by Atlantic Records when he drove Johnny Jenkins to a meeting with the record label and it proved uneventful and ended early. Redding was only allowed to perform two songs, the first was “Hey Hey Baby” which one executive, Jim Stewart, said sounded too much like Little Richard, and the second song was “These Arms of Mine.” Even though it was noted everyone was ready to go home, Joe Galtkin insisted everyone stay and listen. It noted that “something was different about the ballad” and that Redding poured his soul into singing, Otis Redding would sign with Atlantic Records and release his two audition songs as singles in October of 1962 and it would chart in March later that year. “These Arms of Mine” would be one of his most successful songs selling more than 800,000 copies.
THE PEAKE — SONGS IN HIS CAREER
TRY A LITTLE TENDERNESS (1966)
In an article written by The Atlantic, they call Otis Redding’s song “Try a Little Tenderness” a song of resistance. “Reddings 1966 version of ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ was his most stunning such coup’d’etat…this paternalistic ballad about the power of male affection to revive female morale had been covered by Aretha Franklin and Sam Cooke in the years preceding Redding’s version.” When the article talks about “reviving female morale” they are directly mentioning how throughout society, it is a “woman’s job” to keep a man happy, but with Otis, he is describing the opposite, in how a man should also keep the woman he is with happy.
One of the most intense parts of the song is towards the end, “When Al Jackson Jr strikes up rim shots on the drum like a metronome, the band starts to build the kind of the suspense….Redding’s throaty vocals and lyrical embellishments — hold her, squeeze her, never leave her.” In a biography, the article quotes about Otis Redding, it states, “the track is… a musical microcosm of Stax sound, seamless synthesis of the pleading ballad and pounding grove played better than anyone.” This article is a perfect summary of the sound of one of Reddings most notable songs and discuss how Redding was ahead of his time when discussing interpersonal relationships within black couples.
THESE ARMS OF MINE (1964)
In an article written by American songwriter.com, they talk about the previous story I mention on how These Arms of mine was produced. They also go deeper into the instrumental within the song and the different genres that influenced the Otis Redding sound for one of his most successful songs. I think what is more important is they go into the business of the music industry, as stated, “Galkin gave Jim Stewart fifty percent of the publishing on ‘These Arms of Mine,’ and Stax agreed to release the single on their new subsidiary label, Volt.” It showed the type of “scheming” that tends to happen quite often within the music industry, They say how the song was purely Otis and really paved the way for the sound of his future songs.
(SITTING ON) THE DOCK OF THE BAY (1968)
One of Reddings most notable songs released posthumously is not in its full completion. It was said that Redding was so excited about making this song that he called his producer from the airport and not from a hotel like he usually does, as stated by the Rolling stone. In this article, they talked about how at 67’ Redding was getting attention from white audiences after performing at a Go-Go club called the Whiskey in LA. It was at this point that he believed he would be able to follow in the steps of Sam Cooke and Ray Charles. This article does a great job in describing how Redding was getting ready to change his sound before his sudden death to cater to the audience that was starting to notice him, he began focusing more on writing his songs and records; and pouring his work into these new songs. It is extremely sad that none of the songs he wrote could ever be produced, Dock of the Bay was the last of those songs that he was producing.
THE END — DEATH AND LEGACY
On December 10, 1967 four days after the recording of “ (Sittin On) The dock of the bay, Otis Redding and four other band members would die after his plane crashed in lake wisconsin. The sudden death of the beloved and rising star came as a shock to many throughout the blues and r&b world. Sittin on The Dock of the Bay would prove to be more than enough to remember the singer and his legacy, the song has been credited with influencing the soul movement through the combination of Rhythm and Blues and traditional folk. Most notably, Kanye West and Jay Z released their song called “Otis” in which they sample “Try a little tenderness” this song won the pair a Grammy for the best rap performance in 2012.
HONORS AND AWARDS
- 1966 — NAACP Lifetime Membership Award
- 1966 — Favorite Home of the Blues, London
- 1966 — International Male Vocalist of the Year (this originally went to Elvis Presley for 10 years prior)
- 1968 — Billboard Charts “History of Otis Redding” #1
- 1969 —Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame Induction
- 1981 – The Georgia Music Hall of Fame Induction
- 1988 — Received Gold Album for “History of Otis Redding”
- 1989 — Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction
- 1993 — United States Postal Service, Stamp Issued
- 1994—National Academy of Popular Music, Songwriters Hall of Fame Induction
- 1994 — BMI Songwriters Hall of Fame
- 1998 — Grammy Hall of Fame Induction “Respect”
- 2002 — Honored with a Memorial Statue in Macon, Georgia
- 2007 — Hollywood Rockwalk
- 2011 — Grammy Hall of Fame Induction for “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long”
- 2014 — The Very Best Of Otis Redding Certified Double Platinum
- 2015 — Grammy Hall of Fame induction for “Try a Little Tenderness”
- 1967 —”Sweet Soul Music” Gold Award
- 1968 — Annual R&B Award, Record Magazine
- 1969 — Grammy Award for Best R&B Song for (Sittin on) The Dock of the Bay
- 1969 — Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for (Sittin On) The Dock of the Bay
- 1986 — Black Gold Legend Award
- 1993 — Governors Award, Memphis Tennessee, Charter
- 1999 — Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2006 — Rhythm and Blues Pioneer Award
- 2006 — Billboard Excellence Award
- Grammy Hall of Fame — 1998, 2011, and 2015
“Otis Redding.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Apr. 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otis_Redding.
“Otis Redding.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 20 Apr. 2021, https://www.biography.com/musician/otis-redding.
Lordi, Emily. “Hearing Otis Redding’s ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ as a Song of Resistance.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 11 Dec. 2017, https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/12/otis-reddings-try-a-little-tenderness-as-a-song-of-resistance/547655/.
“Best Otis Redding Songs: 20 Classics from the Giant of Soul Music.” Dig!, 16 Feb. 2022, https://www.thisisdig.com/feature/best-otis-redding-songs/.
KentakePage. “Otis Redding: The King of Soul.” Kentake Page, 15 Apr. 2018, https://kentakepage.com/otis-redding-the-king-of-soul/#:~:text=Otis%20Redding%20has%20been%20called,its%20%E2%80%9Cheart%20and%20soul.%E2%80%9D.
Miller, Stuart. “Inside Otis Redding’s Masterpiece ‘(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay’.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 25 June 2018, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/inside-otis-reddings-final-masterpiece-sittin-on-the-dock-of-the-bay-122170/.
Inman, Davis. “Behind the Song: ‘These Arms of Mine.’” American Songwriter, 23 June 2010, https://americansongwriter.com/behind-the-song-these-arms-of-mine/.