(1941 – 1967)
Although his recording career lasted just over five years and was cut short by his premature death, Otis Redding left a legacy as one of the most important figures in Soul music. An electrifying performer with an impassioned voice and a volcanic performing style, as well as a distinctive songwriter whose compositions became classic hits for other artists, Redding's influence continues to loom large over American Rhythm and Blues.
Although he was the seminal Memphis label Stax's biggest star, the Georgia native first arrived at the company not as an artist, but as driver for guitarist Johnny Jenkins. When a Jenkins recording session ended early, Redding and Stax's house band, Booker T. and the MGs, used the remaining minutes to cut Redding's "These Arms of Mine." Released as a single on Stax's subsidiary Volt, the song became a major R&B hit in early 1963, and established Redding as an instant star.
Over the next five years, Redding scored consistent success on the R&B charts with such hits as "Pain In My Heart," "Mr. Pitiful," "I've Been Loving You Too Long," "Respect," "I Can't Turn You Loose," "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)," "Try A Little Tenderness," and "Tramp" (one of several duets with his Stax labelmate Carla Thomas). For much of that time, Redding's popularity was largely limited to black listeners, but he expanded his audience to include white Rock fans after a historic set at 1967's Monterey Pop festival.
In late 1967, feeling the need to expand his musical horizons, Redding (along with MGs guitarist Steve Cropper) wrote "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay," a wistful number with a bit of a Pop feel that departed somewhat from his established sound. On December 10, shortly after he recorded the song with Booker T. and the MGs, Redding's private plane crashed into a lake in Wisconsin, killing the singer and most of the members of his touring band, the Bar-Kays. "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" was released in the following month, and ironically became Redding's long-hoped-for crossover hit, reaching No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 and becoming the first posthumous no. 1 in U.S. chart history.