10 December 2009

This Date In Rock History: 10 December

In one of the more noted tragedies in rock and roll history, it was on this date in 1967 that the heir to Little Richard and Sam Cooke, 26 year old Otis Redding, died in a plane that crashed into the icy waters of Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin. The pilot of the private plane, Redding's manager and four members of Redding's back-up band, The Bar-Kays, also perished in the wreck. (The sole survivor was band member Ben Cauley.)

Otis Ray Redding, Jr. was born in 1940 in Dawson, Georgia. When he was five, his family moved to the city of Macon, also the hometown of "Little" Richard Penniman. Otis was taken by the musical talent and stage presence of Little Richard, and always credited his fellow Maconite as the reason he got into the business.

Otis toured the South starting in 1960 as vocalist for Johnny Jenkins and the Pinetoppers, a group popular at clubs and colleges. After a recording session with the band in 1962, there was still some studio time left and he recorded a demo of "These Arms of Mine," a song that he had written. The subsequent record was released on the regional Volt Records, a subsidiary of Memphis' famous Stax label. It became a regional hit and would become one of Otis' signature songs during his career (and world famous posthumously).

Recording for Stax/Volt, Otis became an R&B star: the list of hits is lengthy, including "I Can't Turn You Loose," "Mr. Pitiful," "Respect" (famously "stolen" by Aretha Franklin), a cover of The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "Try A Little Tenderness," "I've Been Loving You Too Long," and "Tramp" (a duet with Carla Thomas). Many were written by Otis in collaboration with Steve Cropper, the Stax house guitarist and performer in his own right with Booker T. & The MG's.

While the hits listed above were all R&B hits, his impact in the rock realm was minimal. That is, until the "Summer of Love" (1967). Otis' appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival was an out-and-out sensation, leading him into crossover territory. The entire second side of the festival's album contained his performance, highlighted by an electrifying version of Sam Cooke's "Shake."

Three days before his death, Otis went into the studios to record a new single that he had co-written with Cropper: "(Sittin' On) The Dock of The Bay." The now famous outro of Otis whistling was due to the fact that he had yet to compose the remaining words to the song.

Otis Redding was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. Long live The King of Soul.


"Try A Little Tenderness," live on the Stax European tour in 1967.

"Shake" and "Respect" from appearance at The Monterey Pop Festival, June 1967.

ESSENTIAL READING: Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom by Peter Guralnick (Back Bay Books 1986).

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