- Hardcover: 544 pages
- Publisher: Crown Archetype (May 16, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307453944
- ISBN-13: 978-0307453945
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 21 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,290 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life Hardcover – May 16, 2017
This month's Book With Buzz: "The Lying Game" by Ruth Ware
From the instant New York Times bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers "In a Dark, Dark Wood" and "The Woman in Cabin 10" comes Ruth Ware’s chilling new novel, "The Lying Game." See more
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One of Men's Journal's "Best Books of May 2017"
“[An] impressive biography…. Access to Redding’s surviving family members helps Gould flesh out his upbringing and offstage personality…. Music historians like Peter Guralnick, Rob Bowman and Robert Gordon have all done essential work on the history of Stax, but Gould takes a contrary and provocative position on the label’s relationship to its greatest star…. [He] makes a convincing case that, while Redding’s recordings are never less than compelling thanks to his remarkable voice, [Stax co-founder Jim Stewart’s] shortcomings…held Redding back as a songwriter and repeatedly stymied his popular momentum.”
—Alan Light, New York Times Book Review
“Perceptive….An incisive and deeply humanistic portrait.”
—Eddie Dean, Wall Street Journal
“The beloved ‘60s soul titan…comes alive in Gould’s insightful, well-researched biography.”
"A rich picture of [Redding’s] world….Illuminating."
—Will Hermes, Rolling Stone
“Magisterial… With meticulous scholarship, lively prose, and a tale that uses a singular musician as a springboard into interrogating America’s political and popular cultures, Gould has created a vital book that helps contextualize one of the most important figures in pop music.”
—Maura Johnston, Boston Globe
“Gould…sets sky-high aspirations for his book, attempting not to merely chronicle Redding’s meteoric life, but to use him as the backdrop for a larger story about race in America, the history of soul music, and the rise of Memphis’ small but powerful Stax Records. He does that gracefully.”
—Thor Christensen, Dallas News
“An excellent and definitive biography… A master storyteller, Gould tackles Redding’s life by planting his flag firmly at the crossroads of individual genius and social and cultural context… [His] fabulous portrait…provides Redding with the “Respect” he richly deserves. Highly recommended.”
—Library Journal (starred review)
"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 [Otis Redding] ranks equally high among such work focusing on popular musical artists.... Better late than never, the soul master receives his considerable due in this superbly researched and written biography."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Jonathan Gould’s much-heralded biography… builds beautifully, more like a great soul ballad than the dance hall hit so many music biographies aim at becoming. One feels the time that’s gone into the book’s organization, it’s exegesis, it’s every insightful and often quite-funny sentences.”
—Paul Smart, Hudson Valley One
"Gould vividly brings to life the man Stax Records boss Jim Stewart called 'a walking inspiration'.... From his supreme triumphs to his one last heart-breaking phone-call to Zelma, devotees and soul scholars alike could not wish for a more thorough and sensitive portrait."
—Kris Needs, Mojo
“Some of the best parts of Gould’s book are his incisive descriptions of Redding’s live performances and recording sessions.... But even more than his vivid re-creations of Redding’s composing and recording work, it’s Gould’s insightful portrayal of the Segregated South’s racial climate that makes Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life so compelling.”
—Steve Nathans-Kelly, Paste
“Nuanced and well-researched…. [Otis Redding] belongs in the hands of anyone who cares about soul music in the sixties.”
"Jonathan Gould’s exquisitely written biography of one of the greatest singers of all time is spell-binding. His deep research superbly contextualizes Otis Redding’s way-too-short life and career, while his incisive critique of Redding’s work makes his music come alive on the page—leaving us yearning to have experienced the remarkable performer onstage."
—Holly George-Warren, author of A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton, from Box Tops to Big Star to Backdoor Man
“In his biography of Otis Redding, Jonathan Gould summons up the teeming cast of hustlers, visionaries, and eccentrics who fed Otis' supernatural talent. It's a thrill to see Redding brought back to life in all his raw, flashing glory!”
—David Dalton, founding editor, Rolling Stone, and author of Who Is That Man?
About the Author
JONATHAN GOULD is a former professional musician and the author of CAN’T BUY ME LOVE: The Beatles, Britain & America. He divides his time between a home in Brooklyn and a house near Hudson, NY.
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He extends this impartiality while writing about the music business, white managers and Black talent. The prose is steady, giving you a real sense of what it was like to make records, tour the country and compete with other artists of your time. In Otis Redding’s case he had to contend with the star of James Brown, Little Richard briefly and Sam Cooke who died three years earlier than Otis. Otis had remarked after learning of Sam Cooke’s untimely passing, “I want to fill the silent vacuum that was left when Sam Cooke died.” As this biography details, Otis did indeed fill that vacuum. If you’ve ever heard any Otis Redding record, you would know why his voice is the one most identified with ‘soul.’ If you haven’t heard any song from Otis Redding, I would suggest buying this book and as the songs are being described listen to them and see if you can feel the author’s intense descriptions of horns, keyboards and drums, and how they combine with voice to make a great or bad recording.
It isn't necessary to be an Otis Redding fan to enjoy this biography, if you are a music fan, young or old and always wondered about the term 'soul music' this is certainly not a bad place to begin.
Jonathan Gould's brilliant new biography of Otis Redding - meticulously researched and exceedingly well written - is destined to be the definitive one for all time, and it begins with an account of Otis's triumphant Monterey Pop appearance at the start of the 1967 "Summer of Love," where his set (with Booker T. & the MGs) was the only one in the realm of R&B/soul. From there Gould recounts both the history of Otis's family (he was the great-grandson of slaves emancipated as a result of the Civil War, and he was born in a sharecropper shack) and of race relations in the South (Macon, Georgia is where the family wound up and where Otis grew up and made his permanent home). Without understanding the full context of his heritage - right up to the 1960s and the civil rights struggle - one cannot truly appreciate the soul of this proud young Southern black man, even if neither he nor his music was overtly political. Gould's exploration of this whole area is absolutely fascinating and illuminating, and it serves to explicate the omnipresent underlying racial component behind the interpersonal relations involving Otis and the white people in his sphere. It all rings true.
Likewise, Gould presents an informative historical overview of African American music; and from the point the narrative has Otis entering the field of professional recording, we get a veritable education in the music business as it existed in Otis's day (and a bit beyond, as the unfortunate fate of Stax Records of Memphis in the 1970s needed to be told).
Gould's account of the fatal private small-plane crash on approach to Madison, Wisconsin on that cold and bleak day of December 10, 1967 - which left the arc of Otis Redding's remarkable life unfinished - is chilling and heartbreaking, and no doubt accurate in its detail.
While I think that for the most part the author does right-on-the-money critiques of Otis Redding's recordings, I am not a fan of some of the potshots he takes at other artists, either in dismissive or insulting ways. Targets include fellow Stax songwriter-artists William Bell and Eddie Floyd, as well as Atlantic's Percy "When-a-Man-Loves-a-Woman" Sledge (all of whom I owned records by - especially by Percy; in my opinion, one's soul music credentials must be questioned if one is unable to appreciate this phenomenal soul vocalist); and on the distaff side he takes several swipes at Stax's top female artist, Carla Thomas, and her supposed lack of talent. (And by the way, I cannot fully accept the veracity of the vulgar, misogynistic quote about her attributed to Otis.) Most randomly, the author feels inexplicably compelled to call the soulful 1959 ballad "Since I Don't Have You" by the Skyliners (a #3 R&B hit) "smarmy." (Actually, he has its title as "I Don't Have You," which is the only outright error I noted in this expertly edited book. I suspect he really wasn't very familiar with this record - in which case he should have refrained from offering a subjective [and irrelevant] characterization of it.)
Nothing mentioned in the previous paragraph is enough for me to consider lowering my five-star rating, but it did have me scratching my head wondering why he had to go small unnecessarily and risk making his own very necessary book seem a tad less definitive.
This biography focuses more on Redding's recordings, concerts, and pivotal career moments in not just his life, but a greater circular swath within the culture of the era (Southern history, permeating discrimination, songwriters and record producers, Stax Records). Before his death, he made a transition from his role of Mr. Pitiful to be less begging and more assertive, and a final phone call to his wife told her to be good and take care of their children. His sudden death occurred as a result of an airplane crash in Madison's Lake Monona during a flight between Cleveland and Milwaukee. Later investigations showed a missing attache case filled with cash and return slips, as well as Beech 18 planes having a defect that led to fatal crashes in ice conditions. This book ends with information about his will & testament, the Immortal Otis Redding record, his wife never marrying again, and managing his legacy & the Otis Redding Foundation.