Otis Redding: The Crown Prince of Soul Is Dead

The singer dies in a plane crash at 26 years old

otis redding
GAB Archive/Redferns
Otis Redding
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TThe Crown Prince of Soul is dead.

Otis Redding, 26 years old, a former well-driller from Macon, Georgia, died in a plane crash in an icy Wisconsin lake on December 10. With him were the five teen-age members of the Bar-Kays, a group which made the popular instrumental, "Soul Finger," and who backed Otis on his recent tours and appearances.

Otis was headed from Cleveland, Ohio, to a Sunday evening concert in Madison, Wisconsin. It was his first tour in the private plane he had just purchased. His plane hit the surface of the fog-shrouded lake with tremendous force, widely scattering the debris. He was only four miles from the Madison Municipal Airport. On Tuesday, teams of divers were still dredging the bottom of the lake in a search for the bodies.

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Redding's singing career began when he won fifteen straight Sunday night talent shows in Macon. One day he drove with a friend of his to Memphis for a recording session, cut two sides himself and was immediately a major talent. Among the many songs he was responsible for were "Pain in My Heart," done in a later version by some of his greatest admirers, the Rolling Stones; "Mr. Pitiful," a song so popular on the rhythm and blues charts that for a long time he was known as Mr. Pitiful; "That's How Strong My Love Is," another song which was picked up by the Rolling Stones.

Among the others, Otis' great recordings included "Shake," a Sam Cooke song with which he broke up the Monterey Pop Festival; "I've Been Loving You Too Long," and "Try A Little Tenderness," soul ballads which he made so effective by singing the tenderest lines against driving uptempo beats. Another great Otis ballad was "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa," also known as "Sad Song." The song he did which sold the biggest was his version of the Stones' "Satisfaction," which broke on many white charts as well as R&B surveys.

In terms of conventional success, Otis never made it into the top twenty of the national pop charts; others had much greater success with his material. Aretha Franklin pulled off a million seller with one of Otis' favoirte original compositions, "Respect." Arthur Conley also made number one, with "Sweet Soul Music," a song Otis wrote and produced.

In 1967 he replaced Elvis Presley as the world's top male vocalist in the Melody Maker poll, a position Presley had held for eight years.

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In 1967 he proved himself to be a master of production (he had a studio at his 300-acre ranch outside of Macon) and a writer whose material was not only suited to himself but to the entire medium. His voice was rough, but it carried with it a style and a grace and an originality that was rare in the field of rhythm and blues, rock and roll, rock and soul or whatever it's called. Otis was a man of music.

1967 was the year that the Stax-Volt operation at Memphis replaced the Motown group in Detroit as the major influence on contemporary blues. Stax-Volt is a tightly knit group of writers, performers and musicians. (Otis wrote "Mr. Pitiful" and "Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa" with Steve Cropper, who also collaborated on "Midnight Hour," and Cropper is the guitarist with Booker T. and the M.G.'s, the Stax-Volt house band, the band which backed Otis at the Monterey.)

The Memphis sound was going to take over soul in 1968. Everyone knew it, and Otis was the front man at Stax. In 1968, he was going to become "the King of them all, y'all."

Otis was the Crown Prince of Soul, and now the Crown Prince is dead.

This story is from the January 20, 1968 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 4: January 20, 1968