September 9th marks the 79th anniversary of the birth of Soul legend Otis Redding. Born in 1941 in Dawson, Georgia, and raised in Macon, Otis left school at 15 to help his family, after his father contracted tuberculosis. Otis worked as a well digger, gas station attendant, and occasionally, a musician. He was discovered while performing on DJ Hamp Swain’s talent show “The Teenage Party” in 1958. Johnny Jenkins, a locally well known guitarist, saw him and offered to back him. Otis wound up winning the talent show for 15 straight weeks, for a prize of $5 a week! He later joined Little Richard’s backup band The Upsetters for a short time. He and Jenkins joined a group called Pat T Cake and the Mighty Panthers, which toured black venues in the still-segregated Southern U.S. He was first signed to the Confederate records label, then Stax-Volt. His first single there, “These Arms Of Mine” charted in 1963, and became his first big R&B hit.
Redding’s songwriting credits include the original of “Respect”, which he released in October, 1965, and which became Aretha Franklin’s signature song in 1967, and “Sweet Soul Music” with Arthur Conley, which was based on Sam Cooke’s “Yeah Man”. He branched out for a duet album with Carla Thomas, which went Gold, and had hit singles like “Tramp”, and their version of “Knock On Wood”.
After several years of great success, Otis’ career was tragically cut short at the age of 26, when his plane crashed on December 10, 1967, killing him and 4 members of the Bar-Kays. Three days before he died, he recorded “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay” with Steve Cropper. Released posthumously, it became his biggest hit.
On Wayback Wednesday we salute Otis with his original of a song that’s been covered by The Black Crowes, and more recently, by Courtney Hadwin on America’s Got Talent. You can follow the lyrics to “Hard To Handle” by the great Otis Redding!