Remembering the legacy of Otis Redding

Author Jonathan Gould discusses his new biography on the short life of Otis Redding.
19:49 | 06/20/17

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Transcript for Remembering the legacy of Otis Redding
Hi everyone I'm on an in New York there's a new book out we're so excited to tell you about. Exploring the life and legacy of Otis Redding before untimely that fifty years ago. That book is out now it's called Otis Redding an unfinished life and the author Jonathan Gould joins us live here on thanks so much for being here when it. So tell you what he she want to write this book and talent is his story in the first. That very obvious reason is that nobody had written comprehensive biography there have been a couple of efforts to do. To do this before but various various circumstances intruded including. His widow Selma who is still very much alive. Zelman has been a fierce. Sort of guardian of Otis is legacy since his death. And she has not been willing to cooperate. With anybody in telling his story. Initially she was willing to cooperate with the either took me about three years to get to cooperate. But eventually she she came around. Or I came around as the case may be and what that it did was it opened the door to speaking with a lot of people who knew him. Knew him well and work with him and so on. Even Terry short from here. He didn't get a lot of you know there wasn't a lot said about exactly rightly glowing remarks and positive things help heart wasn't to dig up some of this story will. He lived before the age of rock journalism. Rolling Stone was with was magazine was founded in December really a month before he died about 1960s. And so was very hard it was not only court to find anything in print that he had said. But a lot of writing the book had to do with with finding a way to see all of these events from his perspective. The story had been told by other people who knew him by his by his manager Phil wall. But by a lot of people who who outlived him by a considerable margin. And so when that happens the story that's gets told of course is their version of this story and from the probably the hardest thing to do in in writing the book was to find my way. Where to a place where I could imagine how these events seem to owed us. And that was very interesting because the effect of that for me was to understand how much he really was the author of its own career. He had some very well known very gifted people who worked with them. People like Jerry Wexler and Atlantic records. People like a part in the end cheese which was his studio band. And there's a tendency when that happens for for everybody assumed that they were somehow cure rating him. It notices case that this was not what was going on Otis was. Very much in command. Of his career. What he wanted to do musically. And for me that was probably the the biggest sort of the broadest revelation in writing the book. You go all the way back to his early childhood if you talk to the people who know him that you have these fabulous picture us. In the book as well early early childhood photos tell me what it was like to discover those who learn about that part of his little. Three affecting because we know we know Otis says as he looked at says relatively mature manner he was only 26 when he died but. He did have this kind of missed its gravity to he looked like an older man to see a photograph of the PH of eight. This right to fees smiling kid with. Just beaming with a kind of that he Otis was even as a child was known for its charm. Not superficial way and he had a real ability to sort of take people overtake situations. You can see that in that photograph that you. And then to see the awkward adolescent sort of the beaming kids have turned it to. It's sort of deal wide sort of sort of thirteen year old who's staring into the camera doesn't. Clearly that's you have any sense of who he has some. So you know that it's it's it's very and it would would you when you write about somebody's life and the materials are relatively thin. Something like that photograph of company Euro you know use if you focus on these things very intently he try to. Find whatever meaning it's you know that is personality that we with is in that photograph and so that's. He sits through the materials that way and that's that's what I was like. Was also fortunate. One of the ways of cooperating with me with by giving me access to the archive of photographs. Is there some photographs in the book that to my knowledge it never really seen before including. A kind of what what I hope will become an iconic photograph. Notices best known song of course was sitting on the dock and and I was going through with photographs and it came across this photograph of voters standing on the dock. And look at this and I think it's the right age he quickly you know he was it was clearly in the last year's. And it is literally Otis standing on the dock of the houseboat where he wrote that song that Kraft which would I was and that's never been seen before I'd never seen before I mean I don't know that's been published before but it's it's it's it's in the book it's the last photograph in the book as well. But there's another photo in there that's actually not at him but we're he sort of got his start yes the teenage party quit yet not a lot of people know without tell me about that and how that sort of manifest itself in his life. One Lou one of these important influences on a notices career with the advent of black radio. Which didn't exist before the late 1940s and release order exploded in the 1950s. And his radio stations across the country lost their network connections with the advent of television and they needed to find sources of revenue. And one of the things that happen all across the south particularly woods that stations that had previously been you know ABC or NBC stations. Turn to your turn this enormous untapped black population there. On and started beating out rhythm and blues v.s. So these these stations that was full of which why don't with suddenly became very interest in catering to a black audience. And in Macon. Station there WI PB. Sorted something called the teen age party which was a talent show every Saturday morning. And was enormously popular every every every black teenager because it was segregated what whites could go there. Would line up down cherry street. You know and edited the show and compete and win lives he right. And Otis. At a certain point not at that the first teenage party but but after been going for a couple of weeks. Competed. One note at this point was a Little Richard with Little Richard came from the annals that was it was the other rates store who. Proceeded. Otis it yet coming from me at its patents art imitating him very much that was his that was his Forte. And basically Otis won the talent show every week war. Fourteen weeks and let's whatever the story is that way intelligently incidents with the community activist. But it was as by virtue of performing on the talent shows that he met guitar player named Johnny Jenkins very flamboyant. Who. At a had ankle Johnny Jenkins on operas and Otis. Really got his start professionally as the singer Johnny Jenkins that Jenkins was the star of the show he with the guitarist to. Hence certain superficial. Resemblance is Jimmy Hendrix played he played guitar left and turned around. He looked a little yet some of the same flamboyance. And so this was again just the singer sort of almost in the background some ways. You know Johnny Jenkins is the actress. And went. There is this wonderful exploration of the influence that he has as he said he he was the author of his own story but. Not just in creating his own music but defining this sound happy regional music Americans honor music. I learned about this and in reading that there are sort of the Motown highly produced shouted to -- eight. And then there was this stacks right right that used that Otis basically helped create he. Well he was. He was in many ways the architect. But in saying that. Stacks had the great virtue of the sex label with this extraordinary studio that. Booker T and the MG's who. One of the great rhythm sections of a veneer of treatment options. And stacks. Pull Memphis rhythm and blues which was very influenced by BB king who came from there. Had a particular at a particular sounded involved. Rhythm and warns it. And there were a lot of horn players surround those days everybody knew that it was universal's conscription. You know the drafted. And as a result. Many many black people were drafted the army and many many black people played in surface bands. So there were at service fans of course are heavy with court saxophones and trumpets and drugs. So the oral these people who were who are it was a great population of adept foreign players in that in that period which is one of the reasons that the music. From that period is so worn dominated it was easy to find people who played this. Bat or notices case. He was blessed with this rhythm section but I think almost everybody who worked at stacks would say that he was really the architect of their points. And I think many people would say that it was the points that was the so was was the difference between vote tends to act lieutenant used a lot of backups and we all know you had these great vocal groups. And even someone like Marvin Gaye always performed with backup singers. There were no backup singers at Pat's death what they had instead with reforms. And Otis who develop these horns passes his version of a back up in the sense. A whole market this was this call and response between his voice and reports. And he wrote that formed lines he wrote this horn arrangements. Wayne Jackson who has this trumpeter said he would. Eat and he wrote them extemporaneously. He he said Otis which is get your face meets a beautiful Portland to youth movement that he shoots at the end that's what it was like in the studio also he was he was a domineering presence in the another of a great producer who worked with him one one of his records to. Who produced what a lot of people think with his greatest album which is called Lou tub that was that was the from the year engineer at Atlantic records. And you'd worked with Ray Charles he worked with John Coltrane he threw worked with Charlie Mingus and Tennessee. Enormously formidable musicians. And went out first encountered Otis in the studio he flew down to it is to Memphis it is to work with him there. He said oh my goodness this is of this this is someone like that in the sense if he just runs the session. And coming from someone like that's of this extraordinary compliment because as he worked with. Similar great Charles it was a real jeans. As we mentioned that he died so young at 26 surprise to a lot of people as you mentioned because he was so mature yeah. So sort of physically had a dominant as well. But it's also fifty years from the Monterey pop the ball which was a huge turning point for different music yes in America tell me about. Well. What's always said about notices month rate was that he crossed over to light audience. That's a little too simple. Otis got a store thing for way. So that's gonna start playing for white fraternities at Georgia and Alabama and all of these. That's what that's that's what plaque that Wear black bands played in their here in this. In the south when they were getting starter for not a lot of money. And before Monterey he had played. The whiskey a go go which was rock and roll club. The Sunset Strip and in Los Angeles and right and wearing a tuxedo into the utility to dress up for this occasion. Wearing a tuxedo and a disease that he needs Bob Dylan who was very definitely not wearing talks. Yet. But that was with an enormous sort of breakthrough with the kind of hip Hollywood audience like it's that this would describe them. That was in in the spring of 1960s. Youthful look 1966 pleaded Fillmore. Not the Fillmore east but the original Fillmore auditorium. For pilgrim. And that was word that was at the beginning of the San Francisco scene as we think about it ground who of course went on to become one of the great. If not the greatest rock impresario of his generation. Had a very simple thing to say about that notices appearance at three odors at the two were for three nights he said it was the best game I ever put on. That was he wrote that 1993. Back on his career that was it for. So Otis. Knew that he could put himself across. At the same time though mockery with the crowd. It was it was outdoor festival. The circumstances were about as bad as they could be he he went on it at 12 o'clock at night. The festival was posted each night with the stuff that the curfews and stop at 12 o'clock. So. Promoters of the fest will force that we need few short years that some hit five numbers with which to do. And one of the things about about him. Again it's it's so impressive it is. I can't think of an opportunity that he was presented with that he didn't capitalize. An in a major way. And moderate minded and that it the prime example that. It was raining everything was wrong that that you know it shouldn't have gone well gone well he came out and he just. Again it would be dismissed immediately just took command of the whole situation. The first song he did was with the Sam Cooke song called shake he just walked on stage snatched a microphone. Flashed this big grin yeah. And just shattered it would shake you know and the could see it actually on. You know. Things Monterey pop film the audience seems certain hope let's look like the state lately that you were mutilated lunged backwards. And the bases. Shake the levee here the whole crowd and he hears the whole crowd at that point and I think he knew he had done that you know when that happened. It might be the greatest set that I've ever play that was recorder away everything about it it's just that it's just about perfect and it ends with. With try a little tenderness which is kind of a microcosm of his whole. Styles starts as a slow ballad ends its stomping browsing some danced. But it was it was. An incredible. The trial. You started this journey was very little to go on yeah. And this is such a beautiful old di tale and it's also an exploration of sort of with his life and contacts yes to the rest of the country. Do you feel like you understand. The Mann a little bit better now. Yeah a little bit better I don't think you ever feeling completely missed that inning though he. One keeps learning things when I keep thinking about things that the dimensions of him that I lead and emphasize more strongly that's just. A writer my right early mine have Cisco's I've never sort of like done. Learn to stop. But it is important at this episodic but I don't know that I never really done. I think what what. I have a much greater understanding though is is that period. And how important it was. When it's of that period and notices career was. Paralleled the civil rights. Otis was fourteen years old in 1955. And the tools was fifty with was fourteen years old. They were the same age he was he was child in that matter that generation. He lived in Georgia. Martin Luther King with another Georges a leopard. That's great story actually the two went that I know. They were. This was actually flying through the spring of 1967. This was flying to Detroit to try to convince Reeve frankly to tour with him in your head. People he and and Doctor King played in Atlanta connecting flight. First class stock picking with coach that it. As one would expect. But they greeted one another and king was actually flight. To Louisville to lead day. Housing rights demonstration there very well known what because it put it. Correspond with ducky derby is that he was he was intentionally sir. And king sits at Otis is that you notice what you come with people who don't even you can you can participate in this and Otis who. Was very leery of being overtly political. Otis still lived in Macon he still lived in and in this small Georgia city. He was just careful about that. Otis is responses to it to Doctor King was what it was he said if the standards of catch for if he's O doctor if you look at Louisville in March with evasive but. I gotta go Detroit make that dollar. And that was his seat if he was in essence an economic map and this is one way to describe them. But. Very much creature of of that. The aspiration. That that he was giving voice to a news literal in his voice and his career. What is part and parcel of the same sort of aspiration. That this whole generation of African Americans were world where acting upon. And so what he wasn't overtly political. The very idea of an African American singer. Exerting that kind of control over its career exerting that kind of control over over his music. Putting himself across in that way is is completely in keeping with the win. The whole ethos of of that period and and and the incredible sort of you know significance of that period to me and so finding the connections between those two things I mean I proceed. Those years as the trial as it has. Young it's reported young teenagers. It an enormous resonance for me. But to really understand. What it took. For people to do that on any level. Just put themselves forward. In a world where they had been told they must never do it was. It was very powerful. Well there are some very powerful stories. In this book you've uncovered some incredible details and just congratulations it looks like a reasonable way. So the book right now is Otis Redding an unfinished life it is out go check it out. Johnson cool thanks so much for being thank you for and much. Thanks to all of you for watching as well you can always good For more on annie's story thanks for joining us the feedback you're thin.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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