Otis Ray Redding, Jr. was one of American soul music’s greatest ambassadors. He is most known for penning and performing the iconic 1967 single "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay". As a singer-songwriter, record producer, and arranger, he traveled the world popularizing the musical sensibilities of the rural American South. His artistic style helped influence musicians from Elton John to Rod Stewart and aided in bringing Memphis-based soul music to new audiences and heights.
Otis was reared in the rural community of Dawson, Georgia, but he ventured to the “big city” of Macon, Georgia, at a young age to pursue a career as a recording artist. Redding’s big break can in 1962 when—while driving a fellow musician to Memphis to record at Stax Records—he was given an opportunity to record an original song that he wrote and composed. The song was called “These Arms of Mine”, and it was released through a joint partnership between Stax and Atlantic Records. It would go on to become a smash and Otis’ first chart-topping single.
After this initial success, Stax Records continued to release records by Otis Redding. He had a substantial following among black Americans, but both he and the label shared a desire to bring his music to a much broader community of fans and supporters. Given the racial climate in the United States and the sting of segregation in the deep South, radio programmers were very reluctant to promote singles that prominently featured black male artists on record covers. To eliminate this obstacle, Stax Records released Otis Redding’s 1965 album Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul with an attractive woman on the cover instead of Otis. The album was an instant success in the U.S. and abroad and has achieved much critical and commercial success over the decades.
“There was an Otis Redding type of soul coming out in [the 60s] that was priceless. It was peerless. There’s never been anything better.” Elton John
The popularity of Otis Blue in the UK introduced soul music to a new fanbase in the 1960s. This also gave Otis and many of his colleagues signed to both Stax and Atlantic Records opportunities to perform aboard. In the BBC commissioned documentary Soul Deep, Elton John remarked, “Britons were anoraks when it came to soul music...There was an Otis Redding type of soul coming out in [the 60s] that was priceless. It was peerless. There’s never been anything better.”
“Otis established what could really be defined as the essence of soul music.” Al Bell, Stax Records Executive
Indeed, Otis’ star was steadily rising due to his commercial success and ever-expanding following. However, on December 9, 1967, Otis Redding died in a plane crash carrying him and several colleagues. He was en route to perform in Madison, Wisconsin, when the aircraft went down over Lake Monona only minutes from their destination.
Today Otis Redding’s legacy persists through his timeless recordings and the musical stylings of artists who he helped influence. As Stax Records executive Al Bell once remarked, “Otis established what could really be defined as the essence of soul music.” Indeed, the Otis Redding sound helped lay the foundation for the soul music revolution and gave rise to a sonic movement that continues to prevail and inspire even today.
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