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OTIS REDDING by Jonathan Gould Kirkus Star


An Unfinished Life

by Jonathan Gould

Pub Date: May 16th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-307-45394-5
Publisher: Crown Archetype

A music biography with the depth to do its subject justice.

Otis Redding (1941-1967) ranks high in the pantheon of 1960s musical luminaries, so it’s fitting that this biography ranks equally high among such work focusing on popular musical artists. With full cooperation from Redding’s widow and family, along with many involved in his management, his music, and his recording and touring career, Gould (Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America, 2007), a former professional musician, illuminates the life and work of an artist who flourished during an era when the mainstream press gave scant attention to soul singers and the emerging rock press was just beginning to come to terms with Redding’s music. In fact, following the plane crash that took the life of the 26-year-old in December 1967, “Otis’s death inspired an outpouring of publicity that far exceeded the sum of what was written about him during his life.” Gould also provides deep context regarding the racial relations and politics that informed Redding’s progression from high school dropout and Little Richard imitator to the artist whose achievement gave Stax Records its distinctive identity and whose galvanizing performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival suggested even greater things to come. Rock impresario Bill Graham, who presented Redding for the rock crowd at his Fillmore West, said “in terms of all the people I’ve seen on stage since then…[Otis] hasn’t been equaled. There’s nothing close.” Yet just months after his coronation at Monterey, Redding was dead, a victim of wintry Midwest conditions and an inexperienced pilot. He left behind a posthumous masterpiece, “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay,” that sounded like nothing he had previously recorded and seemed to indicate not only artistic growth, but a change in direction.

Better late than never, the soul master receives his considerable due in this superbly researched and written biography.