Happy Belated Birthday to Otis Redding, the King of Soul! | County Grind | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

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Happy Belated Birthday to Otis Redding, the King of Soul!

If indeed Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul, then Otis Redding was the indisputable King. In the decades that have passed since the horrific plane crash that took his life and the lives of his bandmates on December 10, 1967, only a handful of performers have come close to equaling him in terms of passion, expression, and, yes, pure, gritty R&B.

Born September 9, 1941, Redding played in a variety of small-time groups before being signed to a then-fledgling Atlantic Records. An exceptional songwriter even in his formative stages, he immediately impressed the powers that were with his remarkable ballad "These Arms of Mine," which subsequently launched his career. 

A successful debut album, Pain in My Heart, and a triumphant appearance at the venerable Apollo Theater helped fuel it further. Yet greater successes were to come -- with songs such as "Try a Little Tenderness," "Respect," "I've Been Loving You Too Long," and the track that served as his bittersweet epitaph, "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay." There were also triumphant appearances at the Whisky-A-Go-Go and Monterey Pop Festival. He successfully crossed over from R&B to the larger rock market and was ultimately embraced universally as one of the greatest singers of all time regardless of genre.

It's not surprising, then, that Redding parlayed the influence of other artists and infused them into his songs. It's also not surprising that many of his contemporaries and the performers who followed in his wake also attempted to integrate his sound. 

Here are a few examples:

Redding insisted he was heavily influenced by Little Richard and Sam Cooke early on. In fact, his first big breakthrough came when he performed Richard's "Heebie Jeebies" at a local talent show, winning the $5 prize 15 weeks in a row until he was barred from competing. He was briefly employed by Richard's band as well. Cooke's album Live at the Copa also had a substantial impact on the young singer, and Redding's take on "Shake" became a staple of his sets.

Few artists dared to challenge the Stones on their own turf, and yet, Otis' cover of "Satisfaction" -- one of the Stones' signature songs -- not only does it justice but transforms it entirely. Where Mick, Keith, and company conceived it as a riff-ready rocker, Redding squeezes out its soul and emotion and makes it a personal affirmation of his own aspirations and frustrations.

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Lee Zimmerman

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