The book will appeal to those interested not just in the nuts-and-bolts of where Redding’s talent was birthed but how soul music developed over the course of the 1950s and 1960s. Rich with meticulously recounted contextual details along with critical insights, Gould’s book balances the historical with the musical to trace the evolution of a great American talent ... Gould connects a lot of dots among the details of life in the segregated South, Redding’s family history and the ways pop music was changing in the mid-20th century ... 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.
Mr. Gould takes a scholarly, wide-angle approach similar to the one he took in his 2007 cultural study of the Beatles, Can’t Buy Me Love. He has tapped into new archival sources, including unpublished interviews with key figures like Wexler, and he has the cooperation of the fiercely protective Redding family. Otis Redding is an incisive and deeply humanistic portrait, if at times offering too much of the big picture and not enough of the Big O.
There have been several previous attempts to tell Redding’s story, and there has been talk for decades of a biopic about this titan of soul. Gould runs up against the same limitations all these efforts have faced: The singer did only a couple of interviews, and there’s a fundamental lack of tension in the life of a person who virtually no one will say a bad word about ... Exhaustive research into Redding’s early years as a performer reveals both his dedication and his uncertain musical vision ... Gould makes a convincing case that, while Redding’s recordings are never less than compelling thanks to his remarkable voice, [Stax label boss] Jim Stewart’s shortcomings held Redding back as a songwriter and repeatedly stymied his popular momentum.