Otis Redding was born in Terrell
County, GA on Sept. 9, 1941. His father was a preacher and his mother was an
housewive. At 10, Otis sang in the choir at his father's church. At 13, he
mastered the piano. His dream was to become a singer.
Redding made a name for himself
in local bands and performing in local talent shows. In 1962, he came to the
attention of Stax Records and signed a record deal on 8/16/62.
He began his recording career
as a Little Richard-styled shouter. Redding worked in the band of guitarist
Johnny Jenkins at the time, and in 1962 he took advantage of an opportunity
to record the ballad "These Arms of Mine" at a Jenkins session. When it
became an R&B hit, Redding's solo career was truly on its way, though the
hits didn't really start to fly until 1965 and 1966, when "Mr. Pitiful," "I've
Been Loving You Too Long," "I Can't Turn You Loose," a cover of the Rolling
Stones' "Satisfaction," and "Respect" (later turned into a huge pop smash by
Aretha Franklin) were all big sellers.
Redding wrote much of his own
material, sometimes with the assistance of Booker T. the MG's guitarist Steve
Cropper. Yet at the time, Redding's success was primarily confined to
the soul market; his singles charted only mildly on the pop listings.
He was nonetheless tremendously respected by many white groups, particularly
the Rolling Stones, who covered Redding's "That's How Strong My Love Is" and
"Pain in My Heart." (Redding also returned the favor with "Satisfaction.")
One of Redding's biggest hits
was a duet with fellow Stax star Carla Thomas, "Tramp," in 1967. That
was the same year he began to show signs of making major inroads into the white
audience, particularly with a well-received performance at the Monterey
Pop Festival (also issued on record). Redding's biggest triumph.
Redding married his teenage
sweetheart Zelma, she gave birth to three sons over the years. Redding signed
a management deal with Phil Walden. Fellow black artists gave Redding a hard
time for signing a management deal with a white man.
In Oct. 1967, Redding dethroned
Elvis Presley as the top male vocalist in the world named by "Melody Maker"
Magazine. Presley had won the title for 10 straight years.
Redding went on tour, he was
so successful, he was bringing in $35,000 per week from concerts. When he performed
at the Fillmore in San Francisco. Janis Joplin was so enthralled by Redding,
she often brought food, liquor and cigarettes to his dressing room, for him
and his band prior to each show. The late Bill Graham (promoter) once said,
"Out of all the artists I've seen perform throughout my life, Otis Redding was
When Redding returned to Georgia,
he purchased a 260 acre ranch in Macon, GA. Around this time, it was rumored
that Redding and singer Carla Thomas were allegedly having an affair and Redding
planned to leave his wife.
Redding and his backup band,
"The Barkays" (17 and 19 year old musicians) were booked for an out of town
show, before he left, Redding rushed in the studio and recorded "Sitting On
The Dock Of The Bay."
Few people knew that Redding's
contract was about to expire with Stax Records, he was in secret negotiations
with Atlantic Records where he would have more control over songwriting and
publishing for himself and other artists. Atlantic was going to give Redding
a $6 million dollar signing bonus, an unheard of sum for an African-American
artist during this era. Redding was also going to start his own record label
with the financial backing of Atlantic.
Redding also planned to fire
his manager Phil Walden because of money problems and alleged rumors that Walden
was associated with gangsters.
Otis Redding and his band,
"The Barkays" boarded a twin-engine Beechcraft on Dec. 10, 1967. The plane
crashed in Wisconsin on Dec. 11, 1967. The only survivor was Ben Cauley, a
member of the Barkays, Cauley was the only passenger who had been asleep throughout
the whole flight.
After Redding's death at the
age of 26, it was learned that his manager Phil Walden had a $1 million dollar
life insurance policy on Redding's life.
Redding's widow Zelma would
go to work for one of Walden's companies. Walden allegedly convinced Zelma
to sell Redding's publishing rights to Time Music in 1972 for a mere $300,000.
Those rights currently generate $2-3 million per year.
Walden would drop all of his
R&B acts and start scouting Rock and Pop bands.
It has never been determined
what caused the plane to crash.
Sources: "Otis Redding: Try
A Little Tenderness" by Geoff Brown and "All Music Guide" by Richie Unterberger.
*Watch a live performance of Otis Redding singing "Satisfaction," click on the following link Otis Live!