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Otis Redding’s music lives on 55 years after tragic death

By Ed Condran For The Spokesman-Review

There are many legendary recording artists who led remarkably short lives. Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Sam Cooke, Janis Joplin and Robert Johnson are just some of the amazing musicians who failed to reach the age of 30.

One of the most incandescent talents who died in his prime was Otis Redding. The vocalist, who was named the eighth-greatest singer of all time courtesy of a group of recording artists, music executives and critics assembled by Rolling Stone in 2007, was traveling on a private plane on Dec. 10, 1967, with the members of his touring band. On the final approach to the municipal airport in Madison, Wisconsin, the plane crashed into the icy waters of Lake Monona. Seven of the eight people aboard died.

The career of Redding, just 26, was about to reach the stratosphere. The Georgia native had become a star six months prior to the crash while performing at the Monterey Pop Festival.

The impact of Redding’s intense performance was felt by those in the audience and on the side of the stage. The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir was blown away by Redding’s performance.

“I was pretty sure I’d seen God onstage,” Weir said.

That’s the kind of effect the emotive Redding had on an audience. Redding possessed a commanding sexualized presence, which was comparable to the late Jim Morrison, who also died in his mid-20s.

The Doors frontman was vocal about how simpatico he felt with Redding. “The Running Blues,” one of The Doors’ trippiest songs, a soulful bluegrass track, pays tribute to Redding.

“Poor Otis dead and gone/Left me here to sing his song/Pretty little girl with the red dress on/Poor Otis dead and gone.”

Morrison, however, was white and the imposing Redding, thanks to his skin and size, was threatening. Nevertheless, Redding was hell-bent on breaking through to the white masses and he was well on his way after stealing the Monterey Pop Festival.

His success was on merit, since Redding possessed an incomparable voice that could veer from strength to sensitivity on a dime. The latter is perfectly showcased throughout the gorgeous “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long .”

Redding had the goods and the songs. “Mr. Pitiful,” “That’s How Strong My Love Is” and “Shake” are just some of his soul classics. And then there is “Respect.” Redding penned what became Aretha Franklin’s signature song.

Franklin rewrote the lyrics and made the tune an anthem of female empowerment.

“Well, I guess it’s that girl’s song now,” Redding reportedly said.

Give Franklin credit for changing the song to suit her, but if Redding had never penned the tune, “Respect” would have yet to be written.

“I wonder what other songs Otis would have written if he had lived,” Franklin said during a 2015 interview. “We can only wonder.”

Fans can also wonder what words would have replaced the whistling placeholder during Redding’s greatest achievement, ‘(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.” Redding didn’t live to see the well-constructed tune, which was recorded just three days before his death, reach the top of the pop charts. The song was released just a month after his death. “Dock of the Bay” was his initial No. 1 pop hit and the first posthumous chart topper.

Redding became a much bigger star in death than in life and his recordings have been regularly repackaged.

The Definitive Studio Album Collection,” which was released by Rhino in 2017, is the perfect way to take a deep dive into Redding’s work. All seven of Redding’s albums are included in the set.

In five short years, Redding left a considerable legacy behind. The son of Georgia sharecroppers not just left his mark in the music world but paved the way for future mavericks of color, such as Sly Stone, Prince and Marvin Gaye.

Redding and those three recording artists combined strength, sensuality and the unpredictable.

It’s fascinating to see how far Redding came from when he emerged in 1962. Redding stood still onstage while typically belting out polite ballads two years before the British Invasion. As time passed, however, Redding mastered delivering fiery, up-tempo songs. Redding developed his own style onstage, often pumping his fists and marching to his own beat.

Redding was quite a contrast from the polished Black singers who emerged from Berry Gordy’s Motown hit factory. Redding was exciting and he morphed from album to album.

Fans can’t help but wonder how the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer would have changed the world of music just like how it’s curious how Jimi Hendrix or the late Kurt Cobain would have altered their respective scenes.

But there’s also another way to look at Redding and to just be happy that he existed and placed his stamp on the world of music.

Redding hasn’t been forgotten and that’s not just due to the 8 million plays of “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.” Robert Glasper and Mickey Guyton played a tribute concert to Redding on Sept. 9 and 10 to mark the soul icon’s 81st birthday. The concert in Macon, Georgia, was a fundraiser to benefit the future Otis Redding Center for the Arts, which will further support the foundation’s mission to empower, enrich and motivate youth through education programs involving music, writing and instrumentation.

Even though 55 years have passed since Redding’s death, the gifted singer-songwriter will continue to influence future musicians.

There are many legendary recording artists who led remarkably short lives. Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Sam Cooke, Janis Joplin and Robert Johnson are just some of the amazing musicians who failed to reach the age of 30.

One of the most incandescent talents who died in his prime was Otis Redding. The vocalist, who was named the eighth-greatest singer of all time courtesy of a group of recording artists, music executives and critics assembled by Rolling Stone in 2007, was traveling on a private plane on Dec. 10, 1967, with the members of his touring band. On the final approach to the municipal airport in Madison, Wisconsin, the plane crashed into the icy waters of Lake Monona. Seven of the eight people aboard died.

The career of Redding, just 26, was about to reach the stratosphere. The Georgia native had become a star six months prior to the crash while performing at the Monterey Pop Festival.

The impact of Redding’s intense performance was felt by those in the audience and on the side of the stage. The Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir was blown away by Redding’s performance.

“I was pretty sure I’d seen God onstage,” Weir said.

That’s the kind of effect the emotive Redding had on an audience. Redding possessed a commanding sexualized presence, which was comparable to the late Jim Morrison, who also died in his mid-20s.

The Doors frontman was vocal about how simpatico he felt with Redding. “The Running Blues,” one of The Doors’ trippiest songs, a soulful bluegrass track, pays tribute to Redding.

“Poor Otis dead and gone/Left me here to sing his song/Pretty little girl with the red dress on/Poor Otis dead and gone.”

Morrison, however, was white and the imposing Redding, thanks to his skin and size, was threatening. Nevertheless, Redding was hell-bent on breaking through to the white masses and he was well on his way after stealing the Monterey Pop Festival.

His success was on merit, since Redding possessed an incomparable voice that could veer from strength to sensitivity on a dime. The latter is perfectly showcased throughout the gorgeous “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long .”

Redding had the goods and the songs. “Mr. Pitiful,” “That’s How Strong My Love Is” and “Shake” are just some of his soul classics. And then there is “Respect.” Redding penned what became Aretha Franklin’s signature song.

Franklin rewrote the lyrics and made the tune an anthem of female empowerment.

“Well, I guess it’s that girl’s song now,” Redding reportedly said.

Give Franklin credit for changing the song to suit her, but if Redding had never penned the tune, “Respect” would have yet to be written.

“I wonder what other songs Otis would have written if he had lived,” Franklin said during a 2015 interview. “We can only wonder.”

Fans can also wonder what words would have replaced the whistling placeholder during Redding’s greatest achievement, ‘(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.” Redding didn’t live to see the well-constructed tune, which was recorded just three days before his death, reach the top of the pop charts. The song was released just a month after his death. “Dock of the Bay” was his initial No. 1 pop hit and the first posthumous chart topper.

Redding became a much bigger star in death than in life and his recordings have been regularly repackaged.

“The Definitive Studio Album Collection,” which was released by Rhino in 2017, is the perfect way to take a deep dive into Redding’s work. All seven of Redding’s albums are included in the set.

In five short years, Redding left a considerable legacy behind. The son of Georgia sharecroppers not just left his mark in the music world but paved the way for future mavericks of color, such as Sly Stone, Prince and Marvin Gaye.

Redding and those three recording artists combined strength, sensuality and the unpredictable.

It’s fascinating to see how far Redding came from when he emerged in 1962. Redding stood still onstage while typically belting out polite ballads two years before the British Invasion. As time passed, however, Redding mastered delivering fiery, up-tempo songs. Redding developed his own style onstage, often pumping his fists and marching to his own beat.

Redding was quite a contrast from the polished Black singers who emerged from Berry Gordy’s Motown hit factory. Redding was exciting and he morphed from album to album.

Fans can’t help but wonder how the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer would have changed the world of music just like how it’s curious how Jimi Hendrix or the late Kurt Cobain would have altered their respective scenes.

But there’s also another way to look at Redding and to just be happy that he existed and placed his stamp on the world of music.

Redding hasn’t been forgotten and that’s not just due to the 8 million plays of “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay.” Robert Glasper and Mickey Guyton played a tribute concert to Redding on Sept. 9 and 10 to mark the soul icon’s 81st birthday. The concert in Macon, Georgia, was a fundraiser to benefit the future Otis Redding Center for the Arts, which will further support the foundation’s mission to empower, enrich and motivate youth through education programs involving music, writing and instrumentation.

Even though 55 years have passed since Redding’s death, the gifted singer-songwriter will continue to influence future musicians.

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