THE DEATH OF OTIS REDDING in December 1967 was the crushing end to a year in which The King Of Soul had grown his empire exponentially, writes soul expert Geoff Brown in the latest issue of MOJO magazine.
In March of that year, Redding had blown Europe apart with his high-energy stage show. In fact, his bandmates were still reeling from the riotous reception years later.
“The Beatles sent limos to pick us up from the airport,” remembered trumpeter Wayne Jackson. “We went from session musicians making a hundred, two hundred dollars a week to screaming, superstar treatment. Otis could have kept going back with his band he was such a phenomenon.”
With Stateside hits on Memphis’s Stax label with Carla Thomas including Tramp and Knock On Wood and a showstopping performance at June’s Monterey Pop Festival, Redding’s star was climbing high. Even an enforced layoff with throat problems brought out a new dimension in his songwriting. (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of A Bay emerged as he relaxed on a houseboat in Sausalito, across the bay from San Francisco.
But he would not live to see its release, as on December 10, a light aircraft containing Redding and the musicians of the Bar-Kays, approaching Madison Municipal Airport in low cloud and freezing fog, crashed into Lake Monona. The plane hit the icy waters with tremendous force, wildly scattering debris. Redding, plus guitarist Jimmy King, keyboard player Ronnie Caldwell, saxophonist Jones, drummer Carl Cunningham, their valet/friend Matthew Kelly and pilot Dick Fraser were all killed.
“We cried,” Stax-signed producer/arranger/keyboardist Isaac Hayes said. “It was such a shock. Because he was a person that represented so much life. When they’re gone it’s like, ‘What do we do?’ It just stunned Memphis.”
For more on the life and music of Otis Redding, as we approach the 50th anniversary of his death, and the inside story of the Stax label’s recent restoration, pick up the latest MOJO magazine, in UK shops now.
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