While Otis Redding wrote a solid handful of 60s soul hits including "Respect" (made famous by Aretha Franklin) and "I've Been Loving You Too Long," any and all discussions about the late singer--who died in a plane crash at 26 -- have to begin with his definitive moment, "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay." It was unlike anything he had ever written, heavily influenced by Redding's admiration for the Beatles' classic Sgt. Pepper album, which Otis played constantly during a week he spent on a houseboat in Sausalito, when he was performing at San Francisco's Fillmore West Theater in the summer of 1967.
The song posthumously went on to become Otis Redding's biggest worldwide hit and signature. Twenty years later, Michael Bolton's version of the song again made it a Top 20 sensation.
Born in Dawson, Georgia, Redding's career kicked off in 1959 in a local group, Johnny Jenkins & The Pinetoppers, singing in the style of Little Richard, one of his earlier influences. In 1962, he recorded a couple of demos on the tail end of a Johnny Jenkins session for the Stax studios in Memphis, including the first of his really well-known songs "These Arms Of Mine." A long run of singles followed, including "Pain In My Heart," (an adaptation of Irma Thomas' "Ruler Of My Heart"), "I've Been Loving You Too Long," "Respect," and his versions of Smokey Robinson's "My Girl" and Sam Cooke's "Shake."
His most renowned album is Otis Blue, which featured backing from Booker T. and The MGs. Redding was also influential in promoting the talents of other performers; he formed his own production company and label (Jotis), signed Arthur Conley and wrote and produced "Sweet Soul Music" for him in 1966.
As president of his own publishing firm, Redwal Music Co., Inc., he was very active in the company's operation and directly responsible for the company's leadership in the music publishing field. To date, the company has copyrighted over 200 commercially successful songs and published many songs, which have sold in excess of one million copies each.
The idea that music could be a universal force, bringing together different races and cultures, was central to Redding's personal philosophy and reflected in his everyday life. At a time when it may not have been considered politically correct, Redding had a racially mixed band and a white manager, Phil Walden, who went on to found Capricorn Records. Phil and Otis had been friends since their school days.
Adding to Otis' growing legend was an eyepopping performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, and his version of "Try A Little Tenderness" in the film remains unforgettable.
Otis returned home to Macon to write and record, and "Dock of the Bay," a song which became his epitaph, was released one month after his utimely death in a plane crash, along with his young band, the Bar-Kays, on their way to a concert, in December 1967. Otis was piloting the plane.
In 1970, Warner Brothers released an album of live recordings from Monterey Pop featuring Redding on one side and Jimi Hendrix on the other. This record is evidence that the hip white audiences, better known as the "love crowd", were appreciating him as much as the black audiences for whom he had always played.
In 1995, Atlantic Records released The Best of Otis Redding, a two record set including many of his most famous songs.
His widow Zelma Redding still lives at their Big O Ranch, near Macon. She has not remarried, and spends some of her time greeting young fans who still find their way to Otis' home to pay their respects.