Remembering Otis Redding

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At around 3:30 p.m. on a foggy Sunday afternoon, December 10, 1967 Otis Redding’s plane crashed into Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin. That crash killed Otis Redding, a roadie named Matthew Kelly, the pilot Richard Fraser, and four members of The Bar-Kays band: Jimmy King, Ronnie Caldwell, Phalon Jones, and Carl Cunningham. Bar-Kay trumpeter Ben Cauley was the lone survivor of the crash.

From a portion of the BBC series “Soul Deep”:

“They told him not to fly. And Otis had not missed many gigs in his life. He always took pride that he had never missed a gig unless it was absolutely necessary. His last comment before he got on that plane was, “I gotta go make that dollar.””

At that point Otis Redding had just been named international male singer of the year by a top pop magazine in the UK, taking the title from Elvis Presley. The year before when he visited London, The Beatles sent their limousine by the airport to pick him up. In June of 67 he had for the first time wowed a mostly white audience in America at the Monterey Pop Festival.

He really could afford to let that gig at The Factory nightclub near UW Madison go. However Redding still had the same work ethic he had in high school when he faithfully earned $6 every Sunday singing gospel on WIBB in Macon.

I wish he had just taken it easy and let that dollar go that one time.

When he was 3 years old, Otis Redding’s parents moved the family 100 miles to the projects of Macon, Georgia, the hometown of Little Richard (and as it would so happen to be, also James Brown). At 15 years of age, Otis left school to work with Little Richard’s backing band and to help his struggling family. His break came when he visited STAX in Memphis in 1962.

STAX was odd by the standards of both Memphis and soul music. The owners were a white team with no experience in the recording industry: accountant Jim Stewart and his sister Estelle Axton. Neither of them had much knowledge of soul music and not much knowledge of ANY kind of music really when they began the recording studio (Jim started with country and rockabilly and played the fiddle), but because they were open and curious people who would give any musician a chance – black or white – they were able to embrace the plaintive sound of black soul. Their studio is described by all who came through as an oasis from the racism of a city that remains functionally segregated to this day.

Otis got connected to STAX through Johnny Jenkins.

Jenkins had not long before helped Redding win the weekly music contest at DJ Hamp “King Bee” Swain’s “The Teenage Party” in Macon, Georgia (15 times in a row!). When it came time for Jenkins to meet up with a rep from Atlantic at STAX, he didn’t have a drivers license. Otis Redding did have a license and took the wheel.

Musician Steve Cropper: “So we went into the studio and listened to what Johnny had and Al Jackson came down and he said that there’s a guy who’s with Johnny who keeps on bugging me about listening to him sing. We got him down to the piano and he started, ‘These arms of mine, They are lonely’ and man my hair stood up like that. I looked at Al Jackson. I went, ‘Get Jim!’”

“These Arms of Mine” would then be released on the Volt label (a sister label to STAX) on October 1962.

Rest in Peace, Otis Redding.

Otis Redding would then have only 5 more years of life and song.

From PanacherReport:
“the hits didn’t really start to fly until 1965 and 1966, when “Mr. Pitiful,” “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” and “Respect” (later turned into a huge pop smash by Aretha Franklin) were all big sellers.

Redding wrote much of his own material, sometimes with the assistance of Booker T. the MG’s guitarist Steve Cropper. Yet at the time, Redding’s success was primarily confined to the soul market; his singles charted only mildly on the pop listings. He was nonetheless tremendously respected by many white groups, particularly the Rolling Stones, who covered Redding’s “That’s How Strong My Love Is” and “Pain in My Heart.” (Redding also returned the favor with “Satisfaction.”)

One of Redding’s biggest hits was a duet with fellow Stax star Carla Thomas, “Tramp,” in 1967.”

His final song was Dock of the Bay.
He recorded and wrote only a portion of the tune with Steve Cropper on November 22 and December 8, 1967. A few days later Otis made the tragic trip to Madison. STAX then pressured Steve Cropper to quickly push out a record.

Steve Cropper: “It was very difficult, but they called immediately and said, `We’ve got to get something out. We have to have something out.’ And the seriousness of, the sadness of all of that was the fact that they had not even found Otis Redding at that time.”

“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was released in January 1968 and sold more than four million copies worldwide.

If only Otis Redding had really thought about his lyrics – had really sat wasting time that night. I think Madison would have understood and waited. Now Madison waits for Otis Redding forever.

Here’s Soul Deep in 6 parts:

Sittin’ in the mornin’ sun I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ come
Watchin’ the ships roll in
And I’ll watch ‘em roll away again, yeah
I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh
I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time

I left my home in Georgia Headed for the Frisco bay I have nothing to live for Look like nothings gonna come my way
So I’m just go sit on the dock of the bay Watchin’ the tide roll away
I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time

Look like nothings gonna change
Everythin’ still remain the same
I can’t do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I’ll remain the same, yes

Sittin’ here restin’ my bones And this loneliness won’t leave me alone, yes
Two thousand miles, I roam
Just to make this dock my home
Now I’m just go sit at the dock of the bay
Watchin’ the tide roll away, ooh
Sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time

More reading: Otis Redding remembered at Monona Terrace – Isthmus 2007

Pain in My Heart (1964)
The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads (1965)
Otis Blue: Otis Redding Sings Soul (1965)
The Soul Album (1966)
Complete & Unbelievable: The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul (1966)
King & Queen (1967)

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