Not all that far from the dock of Casco Bay, there’s a very special show happening Friday night in Portland, and it’s special for a couple of reasons. Proceeds benefit Full Plates Full Potential, a local nonprofit dedicated to ending child hunger in Maine. The show is being presented by Go Big For Hunger, founded by Maine musician Greg Martens, and it’s produced by musician Marcus Kaplan, who will also be performing.
The other reason why this show is noteworthy is because of the headliner, Otis Redding III. He is indeed the son of the late Otis Redding, one of the most celebrated singers of the last half of the 20th century. Redding’s name goes hand in hand with soul music and rhythm and blues, and his well-known songs include “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” “Try A Little Tenderness,” “These Arms of Mine” and “Respect.” Redding died in plane crash in December of 1967 when he was just 26 years old. He left behind his wife, Zelma, and three young children, Dexter, Karla and Otis III.
Young Otis was the tender age of 3 when his father passed away, but he said during a telephone interview from his home in Macon, Georgia, that he does have a few specific memories. One is being in the car with his father in the circular driveway of their home. The other one is being in the music room of their house. “I took one of his cassettes and took all of the tape out. It was probably a hit song,” said Redding with a smile in his voice.
Redding, now 54, followed a musical path with The Reddings, a band with his brother, Dexter, and Mark Lockett. The Reddings released six albums of soul, funk and disco-infused tunes between 1980 and 1988, and Redding played guitar and created beats.
Redding didn’t find his singing voice until the mid-’90s. He said it was during a time in his life when he was trying to figure out his next move. “I was kind of lost, and a friend took me to Memphis to meet Booker T. and the M.G.s.” That band was key in shaping the Memphis soul sound, and Redding played a show with them during that visit. It was during the same visit that Redding met an old friend of his father, singer Eddie Floyd. “This helped me understand my father’s legacy. I have so much praise for Eddie Floyd,” he said.
It was through his connection with Floyd that Redding properly learned about soul music and the magnitude of his father’s contributions. Until that point, he said, he had only really paid attention to the music and melody, not the lyrics. Now Redding sings many of his father’s songs when he performs live, something he has to approach like any other job. “I have to remember to make it business first because if I think about it too much, it can get emotional.”
Like many of his father’s fans, Redding loves the hits his father wrote, but his favorite is one that was actually written by his mother. “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” began as a poem that Zelma Redding wrote for her husband. In secret, he turned it into a song, and it’s the opening track on “The Immortal Otis Redding,” an album released seven months after the plane crash that took his life.
Otis Redding III said he’s at a good place in his career and is happy not to be constrained by the obligations of being signed to a record label. “I work on five to six songs or so a year,” he said. One such song is “This Ol’ Town,” released last year. It’s a piano-based ballad that picks up steam as it progresses, with drums, bass, strings and backing vocals. Even an untrained ear can hear shades of his father in the vocals.
Take a listen to “This Ol’ Town”
Redding knows that his name sometimes precedes him, and that suits him just fine. “No matter how hard I try to do my own thing, I still have to respect the legacy of my father.” Which is why you can expect to hear some of his father’s songs at the show in Portland. “When it’s all said and done, I’m right back to the old classic Otis Redding tunes.”
Redding said that he fully understands that some people come to his shows because of who his father is, but it doesn’t bother him because many of his shows are benefits. If his name gets people in the door to raise money for those causes, it’s a win.
Friday’s show, at the Portland House of Music, will feature sets by Portland-area acts The Youngerbloods, Hambone, Rodney Mashia, Cosmos Sunshine and Papa Tim’s All Soul’d Out. The evening will end with Redding on stage, backed by members of several of these acts.
8 p.m. Friday. Portland House of Music, 25 Temple St., Portland, $15 in advance, $20 day of show, 21-plus. portlandhouseofmusic.com