Within the first 30 seconds of Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness,” weariness appears as a motif. It’s invoked through both the track’s lyrics and Redding’s classic croon. It’s no blanket of blues, though; this theme is picked up, pumped up and paraded over a band like only the King of Soul could have managed.
This is the driving force behind any track by the Georgia-grown visionary and entertainer — Otis’ live-theatrical sensibility remained within every verse and hook he sang. It was this ability to perform within and around the voice — practically, within the structures of Soul music itself — that helped propel “Otis Redding” as a lasting style in the decades after he left this world too soon at the age of 26.
Far before “Try A Little Tenderness,” far before Otis Redding and his music would see a world stage, and far before a streaming-age of artists would introduce their audiences to his hits via sampling, Otis first found his footing singing in church choir and at school. Soon after, like with many acts at the time, he would turn to radio contests to kickstart his music career traction, meeting collaborators in the process.
Then, during a 1962 visit to Memphis’ Stax Records, Otis Redding recorded “These Arms of Mine” — a turning point in his career and a partnership between Stax and Atlantic Records — and it became his first chart-topper. Otis’ success would seem exponential from that point forward. The demand for the theatrical experience within his tracks would end up taking him to physical stages across America on a tireless schedule.
Soon, this schedule would expand when Otis Redding’s popularity grew with Black listeners, overseas audiences, and various other markets listening to Black radio stations — the release of his 1965 album Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul proved to be an instant hit. The records on Otis Blue helped introduce global audiences to Otis’ trademark vocals, as well as introduce him as a revolutionary pop curator, making him the first Black artist to cover The Rolling Stones.
Otis Redding toured with the energy and fervor bouncing out of every single track he recorded, whether it be for “Try A Little Tenderness,” Otis Blue, or “These Arms of Mine” up until his untimely death in a 1967 plane crash in Madison, Wisconsin. His hits and covers fill the vinyl collections, iTunes libraries, and streaming ‘likes’ of millions around the world. They bring with them a history of soul, and a history of Otis’ rise to fame upon each listen — one that, with each play, gets livelier and livelier.
This Black History Month, Atlantic Records is celebrating the impactful life and transcendent works of Otis Redding, King of Soul.