(December 10, 2017) — It is incredible to think that a half century has passed since one of the greatest tragedies to hit the world of soul music, but it was fifty years ago today that the legendary Otis Redding died in a tragic plane crash, along with several members of the Bar-Kays (the video below includes an interview with survivor, Ben Cauley).
Known the world over as “Big O,” Otis Redding remains one of music’s most influential and important voices. Coupling his passionate, emotive, raw and supremely soulful vocal style with the ability to write songs (such as “Respect,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay”) that spoke to audiences the world over, Otis Redding was peerless, a creative talent whose recorded output ended way too soon.
Born in Macon, Georgia, Otis was influenced early on by another pioneer, Little Richard and his earliest recordings(as “Otis & The Shouters”) reflected his admiration for the rock’n’soul icon. It was two years after Otis began working with Johnny Jenkins & The Pinetoppers in 1960 that he got his recording â€˜break.’ At the Memphis studios of burgeoning Stax Records, Otis got the chance to cut a self-composition, “These Arms Of Mine” at the tail-end of a Johnny Jenkins session: the rest, as is often said, is history. Stax co-owner Jim Stewart and the assembled musicians (including Steve Cropper and Booker T. Jones who would both subsequently co-write with Otis) recognized his unique and distinctive talent; by the spring of 1963, the Redding name had appeared on the R&B charts with that initial recording, the first of what would ultimately be over thirty charted singles and over a dozen classic albums.
In the three years that followed, Otis was a regular hitmaker thanks for such recordings as “Pain In My Heart,” “Mr. Pitiful,” “That’s How Strong My Love Is,” the above-mentioned “I’ve Been Loving Too Long” (co-written with R&B Foundation longtime Board member and Chairman Emeritus Jerry Butler) and of course, “Respect” which went on to become Aretha Franklin’s everlasting anthem. Through unforgettable Stax/Volt albums such as “Otis Blue,” “The Soul Album” and “The Dictionary Of Soul” and further hits (a definitive version of the standard “Try A Little Tenderness,” “My Lover’s Prayer” and “The Happy Song (Dum-Dum),” Otis gained the reverence of European music lovers who embraced his heartfelt vocal style and British groups like The Rolling Stones in particular were quick to express their admiration for Redding’s artistry.
A 1967 duet album with labelmate Carla Thomas (“The King & The Queen”) and an acclaimed appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival (before thousands of music lovers who had never been exposed to his work until that momentous show) were further highlights of the year and in early November, Otis could be found in the Stax studios where his journey to fame had begun putting the finishing touches to a new recording. Within a matter of three days, the news of his passing – while still in his mid-twenties – reverberated throughout the world and posthumously, that November recording would ironically become Otis Redding’s biggest hit. Poignant, personal and reflective, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” assured “Big O’s” place in music history: for true soul fans the world over, it was another reminder of Otis Redding’s timeless legacy.
So today, music fans of all stripes around the world will raise a glass to celebrate an amazing performer who, in his far too short life, established a legacy that continues strongly today, and that further continues to influence artists, many of whom weren’t even born with the Big O did his thing.
Contributed by David Nathan (http://www.soulmusic.com/) and updated by Chris Rizik