September 9th, 1941 (died December 10th, 1967)
Key Tracks "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay," "These Arms of Mine," "Try a Little Tenderness"
Influenced Al Green, Toots Hibbert, Chris Robinson
The first time i saw Otis, i had no idea who he was. It was on the sidewalk at 926 East McLemore Avenue in Memphis, which was Stax Rec-ords. This guy was unloading equipment and suitcases from a station wagon, taking it into the studio. He was a driver for the singer Johnny Jenkins. I didn't see him much the rest of the day until later, when he asked for his audition. He sang "These Arms of Mine." It was in B-flat.
It didn't seem like an audition at all. It was a performance. It wasn't the size of his voice — we knew lots of people with vocal powers like that. It was the intent with which he sang. He was all emotion. It was like, "This guy is definitely not singing for the money." I don't think he ever did.
Range was not a factor in his singing. His range was somewhat limited. He had no really low notes and no really high notes. But Otis would do anything that implied emotion, and that's where his physicality came in, because he was such a strong, powerful man. Backstage, he would be like a prizefighter waiting to get out there. Playing "Respect" live with him was just energy and relentless joy.
Without singing, Otis was more distracted, not sure of himself. He couldn't make the same movements in the studio when he sang. He was more restricted. You got the impression, though. He would do that thing where he stomped the left foot, then the right. And we all played with more intensity around him. He had that magnetism — "I'm a man!" — and he knew it, too. "These Arms of Mine" is still Otis' signature song for me. It is so simple in its beauty and message. Here is a young man singing to a girl: "If you would even consider being with me, how happy I would be." That's such a basic emotion. That's how he sang it, and that's what got him over.