As today, December 10th marks the anniversary of the untimely death of the greatest Soul singer of all time, I wanted to reflect a bit on what it would be like if Otis were still alive. Would his legacy be what it is today? Was it his death that added to the notoriety and celebrity to that of the great singer? It’s true that “Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay” was the first post humous number one song in US history. At this point, Redding had made that song and was the only person behind it. Stax hated it, his wife disliked it, the crew involved with the label wasn’t too thrilled with the direction he wanted to go in, a small break away from his Rhythm and Blues/ Soul sound. Even the whistling at the end was a departure from his imitation of Sam Cooke songs, and an experimental phase in his career. He was a superstar when he recorded that record, that year was one of, if not the best years monetarily in his career. Before Monterrey, he had mostly played in front of African American audiences. Did Monterrey transform him a little, after the success and positive reaction to a Caucasian audience? Was Otis, often called ‘Country Boy’ and simple minded, even more of a genius that we knew (or that he let on to be)? That we will never know, but what we do know is that with “Dock of the Bay”, he was looking to be more like the Beatles in his own way. If that meant selling records, he succeeded at that.
If Otis were alive today, what might he have gotten into? Possibly he would have gone on to work with the piles of musicians who called him a major influence: The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, George Harrison (The Beatles?) and the long list goes on. Maybe he would have played Woodstock and jammed with Hendrix. Would he have gone Disco? You bet. If that were the case, and most artists went that way, even JB a little, we would be finding extended vinyl remixes of Redding’s Disco years today, great string and horn arrangements with bell bottom and wide collar players on the track performing on Soul Train with Uncle Don C. One can only assume that his career would have blown up even further, and he could just tour on that strength. The strength of “Dock of the Bay” and his Stax years. For that matter, would Stax have folded, or would Redding’s talent be enough for them to keep the label going and not flounder out like they did at the end? Maybe Otis would have started his own label, released even more powerful music, and did collaborations with unlikely colleagues. You know David Bowie would have jumped on a duet for a holiday tune (and more), and as the 80’s came closer, would he get involved with Hip Hop? I can see him singing hooks (the original, way before Nate Dogg), allowing his music to be sampled (there’s always a price), and embracing the culture. Would he have stood hand in hand with Nelson Mandela as a world ambassador, who healed the world through his music? Today, Redding would have been 72 years old, and his legacy may have been very different. It’s tough to say where he was going, or what would have happened had he not gotten on that plane in inclement weather that fateful night of December 10th, 1967 and had it not crashed en route to Madison, Wisconsin. What we do know, is that his gut feeling said to take a chance with his music. That he did. However sad it is that we lost Redding, because it is, it still can’t change where his music went, how it impacted the entire world, and how different that impact may have been had he survived. There will only ever be one Otis Redding. Today, we can ponder what music history would be like with him alive, but the truth is, he did pass some 46 years ago and we know what his music did to millions of people. It changed them. He left a legacy and mystery that can not be forgotten. Long Live Otis, The King of Soul.
Otis Redding – Try A Little Tenderness, performed a day before he died.