Otis Redding's son carries on legacy at the Apollo, Carnegie Hall in 2018

"Who can live up to Otis Redding?" singer's son asks

Otis Redding III reflects on his famous father and the family's work to keep his legacy alive, including a tribute Jan. 25, 2018 at the Apollo Theatre.
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Otis Redding III reflects on his famous father and the family's work to keep his legacy alive, including a tribute Jan. 25, 2018 at the Apollo Theatre.

Otis Redding III was only 3 years old when his father's plane crashed into a Wisconsin lake Dec. 10, 1967.

The youngest of the singer's three children has been in his late father's towering shadow ever since.

His famous dad, the King of Soul, died just days after recording what would be his greatest hit: "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay."

"Imagine trying to live up to that?" Redding III asked Thursday at his home near downtown Macon. "Realizing who I really was and who dad really was, ... that was the hardest thing to do."

The baby of the family relies on his mother, Zelma Redding, for most memories of his younger days with dad.

For five decades now, she has been preserving and protecting the legacy of her late husband, including establishing the Otis Redding Foundation 10 years ago.

"I'm just blessed and honored that my mom kept it all going," Redding III said.

Fifty years ago, his father planned to go back into the studio and add another verse to "Dock of the Bay" after he returned from performing in Madison, Wisconsin.

He was to headline the $3-a-ticket concert with the Bar-Kays and the Grim Reapers, whose leader later helped form Cheap Trick.

The track that Redding whistled as a placeholder became an iconic riff as "Dock of the Bay" became the only posthumous hit to reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Another version of the release includes his dad's bird calls.

The tune has become a haunting soundtrack of the youngest Redding's life.

"It seems like my life is about 'Dock of the Bay,'" said Redding III, who turns 54 on Sunday.

His older siblings, brother Dexter and sister Karla Redding-Andrews, also have devoted themselves to the foundation.

Their parents co-wrote the song "Dreams to Remember," but the couple's youngest son continues to pursue his own musical dreams.

Otis III and his older brother, Dexter, picked up guitars a few years after their dad's death.

They formed the band The Reddings with lead singer Mark Lockett, Dexter on vocals and base, and Otis III strumming the guitar.

During the '80s, the Reddings recorded six albums, including "The Awakening" that launched "Remote Control," which made it to No. 6 on Billboard's Hot Soul singles chart.

The song is still played on the radio in Europe, where Otis Redding Jr. was enormously popular.

"We never had a gold or platinum record, but we toured the world," Redding III said.

To this day when traveling, he is careful in European airports. He asks counter agents to call him "just Otis" and not announce his full name over the loudspeaker.

"When they say 'Otis Redding,' it creates something," he said.

A few years after The Reddings band broke up in the late '80s, Stax records R&B singer Eddie Floyd asked Otis III to play guitar with him on a European tour.

Before one of the performances, Floyd surprised him, saying: "Tonight, you're going to sing your dad's song."

Otis III had never fashioned himself as a singer, and he originally balked. But he made it through the song.

Now, he records his own music and released singles "Leaving Me" in 2014 and "This Ol' Town" and "Dance Dance Dance" earlier this year.

"People started hearing my own music, but it always revolves around to Otis and 'Dock of the Bay,' " he said.

While his own tunes are getting attention, 'Dock of the Bay' is the song everyone requests.

On Jan. 25 at the Apollo Theatre in New York City, Whoopi Goldberg will introduce Otis III to sing his dad's song during "An Evening of Respect: Celebrating Otis Redding & 50 Years of '(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay.'"

Redding III and his brother will be performing along with The Dap-Kings during the tribute, which will benefit the foundation, headquartered in downtown Macon.

"That's really a big deal. I feel like I should sit back and drink a glass of sweet tea," he said.

The night at The Apollo is not all he's looking forward to.

At Carnegie Hall Feb. 5, he will be singing his dad's hits in the "Sounds of Change" presentation featuring music of the '60s.

He will be joining Dionne Warwick and music director Ray Chew and other artists remembering the struggles, celebrations and reconciliations through anthems of folk, rock, soul and R&B that defined the era.

Redding III may have been little more than a toddler when his father died, but he remembers some of their time together on the family farm in Jones County.

Zelma Redding reminds her younger son that he was a "busybody" who got a "poppin'" for pulling out the tape from a cassette of new music his dad was recording at the house, he said.

Otis III is grateful for the opportunities he's had because of his father.

"He doesn't need us to live his dream. He keeps it going on his own," he said.

Memorabilia lines the hallway of his two-story house and studio that also has a rich musical heritage as a former home of the Waldens of Capricorn Records fame.

Photographs, album covers and guitars hang on the wall, but his most cherished possession is a framed 10-year-old poster from Stax Museum's tribute to Otis Redding Jr. on the 40-year anniversary of his death.

A photo of Otis holding Otis III anchors the poster.

The famed singer's eyes are focused on his youngest child, who is smiling brightly.

"I cannot fill my daddy's shoes with music," Redding III said. "I can try to be as good a person as he was, ... but I don't even scratch the surface of his talent."

Dexter Redding resembles their father more, he said, and sounds just like him when singing "Try a little Tenderness."

The brothers have performed the song together with a video recording of their father picking up the second verse on a screen behind them.

"It's a great feeling when we do that and dad's in the back," Redding III said.

The whole family will be heading north for the tributes.

"It's a sad time of the year for the family," he said, "but the industry and the fans keep his legacy alive."

Liz Fabian: 478-744-4303; @liz_lines