Otis Redding’s Unfinished Life Still Resonates – NPR

13 May Otis Redding’s Unfinished Life Still Resonates – NPR

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How did Redding walk into the door of Stax Records in Memphis?

This is the Hollywood aspect of Otis’ story. He was a singer in a band that was led by a very flamboyant guitarist named Johnny Jenkins. They were managed by the young white college boy in Macon [Ga.] who eventually went on to manage Otis as well — but at that time, the whole focus of Phil Walden, his future manager, was on Johnny Jenkins. And Phil and a colorful character named Joe Galkin engineered an opportunity for Johnny Jenkins and Otis Redding to record at Stax Records in Memphis. The plan called for Otis to drive Johnny to Memphis from Macon, and then hopefully to find a chance to sing after Johnny had finished his work there.

And the way the session played out was that Johnny impressed no one at Stax. After a few hours Jim Stewart, who was the owner and engineer at Stax, announced to Joe Galkin that he really didn’t think that he was going to be able to make any kind of a record with this fellow. And Galkin pointed out that Atlantic Records had fronted a certain amount of money for this session and there was still time on the clock, and [he] said, “Well, Otis had a ballad that he wanted to sing.” And the ballad turned out to be “These Arms Of Mine.” It’s just a little slip of a song; it’s all Otis. But because there’s so little there, my sense is it gave him nothing but a feeling to work with, and he was able to just fill all the available space on that record with his voice.

Well, “Respect” was an important record for Otis — his first really successful “groove song,” as they called them at Stax. And, it’s a remarkable record, in part because of the power of the band. But at the same time, Otis had developed an extraordinary ability as a horn arranger, and it was all the more impressive because Otis was a “head arranger.” He would simply sing these horn lines to the horn players — make them up in his head and put them together in the studio.

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