Otis Redding’s in my head a lot. The late, great “Big O,” as I’ve always called him. What an incredible talent and he was taken from the world much too soon. If there’s a rock n roll heaven, he’s singing with the band.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Otis was only 26 years old when he died in a plane crash on December 10th, 1967. He left behind a wife, 2 small children, accomplished musicians who would have done anything to keep playing for him, and a world of music lovers who were heartbroken. Some of us to this day. He was just beginning to hit the big time, really, having gained a big following in Europe, and he was starting to “cross over” as they call it, here in the United States. (That means making the transition from R & B star to becoming an artist popular with everyone.) It’s really sad that he had just recorded a song in the studio called “Sitting On the Dock of the Bay,” and he was excited about it. He said he just couldn’t get it out of his head. (I know what that’s like.) Sure enough, it was released soon after his fatal crash, and it shot all the way up to #1. It was the only #1 hit Otis ever had. I’m convinced he would have had more if he had stuck around a little longer.
On December 9th, one day before the crash, Otis and his backup band, The Bar-Kays, performed on a television show in Cleveland called “Upbeat.” They did “Try a Little Tenderness” and here’s a video of that performance so you can witness this dynamic showman in action. The Bar-Kays didn’t show a lot of emotion, but Otis more than made up for it. Just watch this. And turn it up loud!
Just think about this. After doing this unforgettable song on the tv show, Otis and the band played in a Cleveland nightclub that evening. The next afternoon, Otis and 4 members of the band, plus his manager, and the pilot were all killed when their small plane crashed into the ice cold waters of Lake Monona near Madison, Wisconsin. One of the band members was the only survivor on the plane, and another musician hitched a ride on a separate plane, since Otis’ plane could only hold 7 people. The world lost a huge talent that day. Otis Redding was incomparable.
Otis grew up in Macon, Georgia, and started singing in church as so many great singers do. He toured for several years on the circuit with Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers. He was actually employed as the band’s driver, until they heard him sing and eventually got him on stage. The group became Otis Redding and the Pinetoppers. He recorded a song he wrote in 1962, called “These Arms of Mine.” If you’re an Otis fan, you know this one well. It became a minor hit for Volt Records, a subsidiary of Stax in Memphis, and Otis was on his way. He did a lot of touring with fellow Stax recording artists, Sam & Dave (just imagine how great those shows were!) Redding wrote, or co-wrote, with Steve Cropper, a lot of great songs…and back then, not too many artists were writing their own material. He had some great ones: “Mr. Pitiful,” “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” “Try a Little Tenderness,” and even “Respect.” Everybody knows that one because Aretha Franklin turned it into a smash hit, but Otis wrote it and recorded it first. My favorite was “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” and here’s the studio version of that song.
See what I mean? It just doesn’t get any better than that. In 1967, Otis appeared on stage at the Monterey Pop Festival in California. A whole new audience witnessed his extraordinary talent, and he became an even bigger star. If you’re interested in hearing more great songs by Otis, check out “I’ve Got Dreams To Remember.” And maybe listen to “Sitting On the Dock of the Bay” one more time.
You know, it’s amazing. “Sitting On the Dock…” was really unlike anything else he had ever recorded, and I guess it’s probably his best-known song. And that’s cool. But I prefer the power and the passion of some of his other music. Recently, they released “Otis Redding Live On the Sunset Strip,” a compilation of live stage shows from the summer of 1967, I believe, and it is incredible. What a great show that guy put on! If you want to hear Otis at his best, get that double CD. I promise it’s amazing. Nobody has ever sung with more passion and pure strength than Otis Redding.
Quick story: During the summer of ’67, a friend of mine and I were talking about going to see Otis in concert. He was coming somewhere fairly close to us here in North Carolina. I think it was maybe Fayetteville. Or perhaps it was a city in Virginia…it doesn’t matter. At the last minute, we both found out we had to work, so we couldn’t go. And I remember we said to each other, “This won’t be the only time. We’ll catch the next show.” Turns out there wasn’t a “next show.” Otis perished in that plane just a few months later, and I never got a chance to see him in person. That’s always been a major disappointment. But I’m glad his music is out there for everybody to enjoy. I know I won’t stop listening to it!
What do you think of Otis Redding’s music? And who are some of your favorite artists? I would love to know.