Otis Redding is known as one of the greatest singers in music history, although he did not get his start easily. In the early 1960s, Redding was usually seen touring with groups such as the Upsetters or Pat T. Cake and the Mighty Panthers. He had a close working relationship with blues guitarist Johnny Jenkins. This resulted in a bit of luck, as Redding was able to drive Jenkins to a recording session during which the studio head decided to give Redding a shot at recording. This led to Redding recording the ballad “These Arms of Mine,” which would hit the charts five months later.
Redding’s debut album, Pain in My Heart, showcased the deep and Southern sound he gave to soul and R&B music. While he wrote a few of the songs on the album, including “These Arms of Mine” and the B-side from the single, “Hey Hey Baby,” he also recorded popular songs by Richard Berry, Sam Cooke, and Ben E. King. Over the next few years, he would write other major songs such as “Respect” (later popularized by Aretha Franklin), and “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” He also recorded a cover of “Try a Little Tenderness,” which became one of his signature songs. His other major signature song would be “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” written with Steve Cropper and recorded in 1967.
Due to his death in a plane crash in 1967, Redding’s career was unfortunately short-lived. Even so, he was known during his time on the stage as one of the kings of soul music, able to imitate the fast-paced style of Little Richard while also performing well on ballads and songs that adopted the soulful style of Sam Cooke. He even incorporated rock and roll influences such as the Beatles, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan.
When it came to writing, Redding was able to handle his own songs. However, he had a close working relationship with Steve Cropper. Between Cropper’s guitar riffs and the introspective lyrics sung by Redding, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” is one of the most memorable songs of Redding’s career. They also worked together on simpler endeavors. For instance, the song “I Can’t Turn You Loose” is technically repetitive in terms of both lyrics and guitar riffs, and many of Redding’s other songs did not utilize a great number of chord changes. Even so, he was known for his dynamic vocal abilities on such songs, lending a great deal of electricity to every note he performed regardless of its complexity.
Otis Redding’s penchant for simplicity is only half as memorable as his voice. He sang with an open throat, often throwing interjections into his songs in a way which added a level of energy to his performances. Not only did Redding inspire other soul and R&B performers such as Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin, but he even inspired rock bands such as the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, and one of the bands that inspired him, the Beatles. He has also inspired modern rappers, with Jay-Z and Kanye West having won a Grammy for their song “Otis.” While Redding may not have lived to see the 1970s, his music has survived well into the new millennium.
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