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Why Otis Redding Matters

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In its heyday, soul music was powered by sheer romantic emotion that was animated by gritty riffs, a strong beat and an uninhibited determination to make audiences feel. Over time, soul evolved through artists' varied personal and regional experiences. For example, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin brought the church to soul. James Brown gave soul a funky urban attitude. And Otis Redding brought the rural South to soul through a crying voice and stage presence that was earthy, insistent and raw.

Redding had plenty of hits with Stax Records in Memphis in the 1960s—including Try a Little Tenderness and Knock on Wood. Then in December 1967, Redding boarded his Beechcraft plane in Cleveland along with his band, the Bar-Kays, en route to the next gig in Madison, Wisc. Redding prided himself on making nearly every gig, no matter what. Despite rain and fog, the plane took off but crashed in Lake Monona four miles from Madison, killing everyone on board except the Bar-Kays' trumpeter Ben Cauley.

While Redding's hit (Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay was released posthumously 48 years ago today (read my Wall Street Journal “Anatomy of a Song" column on the song here), I thought the anniversary would provide us with an opportunity to see and hear what made Redding special and why his voice and approach still stand out today...

Here's Try a Little Tenderness, filmed in Cleveland one day before Redding's fateful flight...



Here's Redding on Ready, Steady, Go! in 1966...



Here's Redding singing Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song), with trumpeter Wayne Jackson and saxophonist Joe Arnold behind him...



Here's a Part 1 of a four-part documentary on Redding (the next parts will follow after this clip ends)...

Continue Reading...

This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.

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