Otis Redding was born in Dawson, Georgia on September 9,
1941. Three years later his family moved to nearby Macon, where his father worked
at the local Air Force base and as a part-time preacher. Redding joined the church
choir at age eight and sang in a gospel quartet as a teen. He played drums in the
high school band but dropped out of school in the tenth grade to help support his
family when his father became sick. Redding had several jobs, but his preoccupation with music
often cost him work; he was fired from his job as a parking lot attendant
for singing in parked cars and as a hospital orderly for vocalizing in the halls.
Growing up, Redding had gospel, rock and R&B musical
influences all around him, but his biggest influence was Macon
neighbor Little Richard, whom he first heard at age 13. Redding grew up
listening to him on the radio and began imitating his energetic performances, even
covering his song "Lucille" on his first album. He also idolized Sam Cooke, a more tender
balladeer in contrast to Little Richard. According to author Arnold Shaw, it was the combination
of these two influences that later made Redding such a unique soul singer.
Redding began making music working every
Sunday morning at a Macon radio station playing behind gospel groups. In 1958, he
began entering local DJ Hamp Swain's Teenage Party contests
at Macon's Douglass Theater. Often singing Elvis Presley songs, Redding
was a crowd favorite. After winning fifteen weeks in a row, he was no
longer allowed to compete.
It was there that he met fellow performer Johnny Jenkins
and his white teenage manager, Phil Walden. Walden began booking Redding as a vocalist for local
bands and Johnny Jenkins's Pinetoppers, with whom Redding would finally get his break.
Popular on the college circuit in Georgia, Redding toured with the group and cut an
imitation Little Richard song called "Shout Bamalama." Nothing ever came of the song,
but its lead singer, Otis Redding, was about to become a star.