was also the most consistent exponent of the Stax sound,
cutting his records at the Memphis label/studios that
did much to update rhythm and blues into modern soul.
His death at the age of 26 was tragic not just because
he seemed on the verge of breaking through to a wide pop
audience (which he would indeed do with his posthumous
#1 single", (Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay").
It was also unfortunate because, as "Dock of the Bay"
demonstrated, he was also at a point of artistic breakthrough
in terms of the expression and sophistication of his songwriting
began his recording career in the early '60s as a Little
Richard-styled shouter. The Georgian was working 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.
wrote much of his own material, sometimes with the assistance
of Booker T. and 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".
of Otis' 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). Otis' biggest triumph, however, came just
days before his death, when he recorded the wistful "(Sittin'
on) The Dock of the Bay", which represented a significant
leap as far as examination of more intensely personal
emotions. Also highlighted by crisp Cropper guitar leads
and dignified horns, it rose to the top of the pop charts
in early 1968. Otis, however, had been killed in a plane
crash in Wisconsin on December 10, 1967, in an accident
that also took the lives of four members from his backup
band, the Bar-Kays.
few other singles became posthumous hits, and a good amount
of other unreleased material was issued in the wake of
his death. These releases weren't purely exploitative
in nature, in fact containing some pretty interesting
music, and little that could be considered embarrassing.
What Redding might have achieved, or what directions he
might have explored, are among the countless tantalizing
"what if" questions in rock'n'roll history. As it is he
did record a considerable wealth of music at Stax, which
is now available on thoughtfully archived reissues..
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