When Otis Redding Delivered the 20 Best Minutes of Pop Music Ever
A half century ago, the Monterey Pop Festival showcased the rock bands of San Francisco and Los Angeles, but the man who stole the show was Macon, Georgia’s Otis Redding.
“I was pretty sure that I’d seen God onstage.”
Late on the evening of June 17, 1967, as Saturday night turned to Sunday morning, the San Francisco–based rock group known as the Jefferson Airplane concluded their 40-minute set to rousing applause from the 7,500 fans who filled the fairgrounds arena in the resort town of Monterey, California, on the second night of an event billed as the First International Pop Festival.
The Airplane were local heroes to the crowd at Monterey, many of whom lived in the Bay Area and had followed the band’s career from its inception in 1965. Along with other whimsically named groups like the Charlatans, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Grateful Dead, they had gotten their start in the folk coffeehouses and rock ballrooms of the Haight-Ashbury, a neighborhood on the eastern edge of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park whose recent emergence as a bohemian enclave had captured the imagination of young people across America. During the first half of 1967, a series of sensationalistic articles had appeared in newspapers and national magazines describing this self-styled “psychedelic city-state” and the long-haired, hedonistic “hippies” who populated it. This rash of publicity had inspired tens of thousands of footloose college students, college dropouts, teenaged runaways, and “flower children” of all ages to converge on San Francisco in anticipation of an idyllic “Summer of Love.”
The Monterey Pop Festival was timed to coincide with the start of that summer. The idea for the festival had originated a few months before as a gleam in the eye of a neophyte Los Angeles promoter named Alan Pariser, who envisioned it as a pop-oriented version of the seaside jazz and folk festivals at Newport and Monterey that had served as a fashionable form of summertime entertainment since the ’50s. After booking the fairgrounds and enlisting a well-connected Hollywood Brit named Derek Taylor (who had previously worked for the Beatles) as their publicist, Pariser and his partner, a talent agent named Ben Shapiro, approached the Los Angeles folk-rock group The Mamas and the Papas with the intent of hiring them as headliners. The group’s leader, John Phillips, and their producer, Lou Adler, responded with a vision of their own. They proposed expanding the size and scope of the festival and using it to showcase the explosion of creative energy that had enveloped the world of popular music in the three years since the arrival of the Beatles in America in 1964. They also proposed staging the festival on a nonprofit basis, with the performers donating their services and the proceeds going to charity.
When Shapiro balked at this idea, Phillips and Adler bought out his interest and formed a new partnership with Pariser. They then set out to assemble a roster of some thirty acts, enough to fill three nights and two days of music. Toward this end, they established a tony-sounding “board of governors” that included such prominent pop stars as Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Smokey Robinson, and Brian Wilson. Though none of these luminaries actually attended or performed, they gave the festival enough cachet to ensure that most of the artists the promoters contacted accepted their invitation to appear. In the deft hands of Derek Taylor, the advance publicity for the festival also attracted some twelve hundred loosely credentialed representatives of the press, as well as enough agents, managers, and record company executives to lend the proceedings the feeling of an open-air music business trade fair.
Phillips and Adler recognized that staging the festival on a nonprofit basis was essential to realizing their more parochial goal, which was to celebrate California’s sudden ascendancy in the world of popular music, with Los Angeles now recognized as the pop recording center of America and San Francisco as the home of the country’s most dynamic underground music scene. (Fully half the acts that performed came from the West Coast, with the balance drawn from points east, including the new pop capital of London.)
Though the Jefferson Airplane were hometown heroes to the crowd at Monterey, they were not the headlining act on the second night of the festival. No sooner had they finished their set than the harried stage crew, pressed by a midnight curfew that had already expired, began replacing their banks of amplifiers with the more modest gear of a four-piece rhythm section called Booker T. and the MGs and a two-piece horn section called the Mar-Keys. Their presence at Monterey owed to their role as the studio band for Stax Records, a small Memphis label that specialized in a distinctive brand of earthy, gospel-tinged rhythm and blues whose roots in the fervent emotionalism of the black church had earned it the label “soul music.” The most prominent and charismatic artist associated with Stax was the singer Otis Redding, and it was as the prelude and accompaniment to Redding’s eagerly anticipated performance that the MGs and the Mar-Keys now prepared to take the stage.
Whereas the members of the Jefferson Airplane blended easily into the crowd of predominantly white, long-haired, flamboyantly dressed young people who filled the fairgrounds arena, the MGs and Mar-Keys—three of them white, three of them black—could well have arrived there, as one of them later said, “from another planet.” To a man, their hair was cut short and, in the case of the white musicians, swept back into the sort of sculpted pompadour that was commonly associated in 1967 with television evangelists and country music stars. Even more anomalous was the fact that the six of them were dressed in matching, double-breasted, lime-green and electric-blue stage suits from Lansky Brothers, a local institution in Memphis whose most famous client, Elvis Presley, could be said to stand for everything in the realm of contemporary American popular music that the West Coast bands were not.
From his seat in the VIP section, just behind the photographers’ pit that ran in front of the stage, Jerry Wexler awaited the start of Otis Redding’s set with mounting trepidation. A vice-president of Atlantic Records, Wexler was a renowned music executive and producer, best known for his work with Ray Charles and, more recently, Aretha Franklin. He was also a notorious worrier, and he felt a sense of personal responsibility for Redding’s presence at Monterey. It was Wexler who had nurtured the relationship between Atlantic and Stax that put the fledgling Memphis label on the map, and who had assured Redding’s manager, Phil Walden, that the festival would be a prime opportunity for his client to connect with the burgeoning audience for progressive rock.
Yet Wexler himself was unnerved by the countercultural pageant he encountered at Monterey. It was not the thick haze of marijuana smoke hovering over the fairgrounds that gave him pause; Wexler had been smoking “reefer” since his club-hopping days in Harlem in the ’30s. It was rather that much of the music he had heard during the afternoon and evening concerts on Saturday had impressed him as amateurish, bombastic, and banal, and he was now consumed with doubt about how this crowd of wide-eyed dilettantes would respond to the raw emotional intensity and high-energy stagecraft of Otis Redding’s performance. To make matters worse, a cold drizzle was beginning to fall, and as Booker T. and the MGs launched into their opening number, Wexler’s expert ears told him that the group, known for their impeccable timing, was sounding slightly off. When Phil Walden emerged from the backstage area to pay his respects, Wexler told his young protégé that he was afraid they had made a mistake.
By the time Walden returned backstage, Booker T. and the MGs had overcome the effects of the late hour, the cold night, and whatever nervousness they may have felt at performing in such unfamiliar surroundings and were setting up an enormous groove behind the saxophonist Andrew Love as he scorched through his solo on the Mar-Keys’ showcase, “Philly Dog.” As for Otis Redding, the very real apprehension he felt was imperceptible to all but his closest associates.
A tall, thick-featured, powerfully built man whose imposing physical presence made him seem considerably older than his age of 25, Redding waited in the wings with his usual air of restless energy. Earlier, when Phil Walden asked him what songs he planned to sing, Redding had teasingly pretended that he hadn’t given the matter much thought. (In fact, he had determined his set with the band the day before.) His feigned nonchalance was entirely in character, for one of the traits that had distinguished Redding throughout his five-year professional career was his seemingly boundless confidence in his ability to win people over.
Notwithstanding Jerry Wexler’s doubts, Redding had gained a great deal of experience performing in front of nominally hip white audiences during the year that preceded his appearance at Monterey. In the spring of 1966, he had wowed the Hollywood in-crowd with his shows at the Whisky a Go Go, a nightclub on the Sunset Strip. In the fall he had toured in England and France and played a three-night engagement in San Francisco at Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium, the Carnegie Hall of acid rock. (Twenty-five years later, Graham would remember it simply as “the best gig I ever put on in my entire life.”) More recently, in the spring of 1967, Redding had returned to Europe, where he was rapturously received by fans in Britain, France, and Scandinavia, and afforded a royal welcome by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the other members of London’s pop aristocracy who had revered him from afar.
At the conclusion of “Philly Dog,” the television host Tommy Smothers came onstage and encouraged the crowd to give a warm welcome to “Mister Otis Redding.” The MG’s initial downbeat was answered by a syncopated fanfare from the horns and a fusillade of accents from the drums as Redding, resplendent in a teal-green silk suit, strode to the microphone, snatched it off its stand, flashed an enormous smile, and issued what was very likely the first unequivocal command to come from the stage at Monterey since the festival began. “SHAKE!” he demanded. “Everybody say it.” And again: “SHAKE! Let me hear the whole crowd.” Between the honorific tone of Tommy Smothers’ introduction and the note of total authority in the singer’s voice and the band’s accompaniment, for the 7,500 astonished young listeners who leapt to their feet and surged toward the stage, it was as if the grown-ups had arrived.
The five songs Otis Redding performed in his rain- and curfew-shortened set at Monterey composed an overview of his brief career. The incendiary opening number, “Shake,” had been a posthumous hit for Sam Cooke, the gospel singer turned pop star whose supple voice, clean-cut good looks, and consistent “crossover” success (with white and black listeners alike) had made him, along with Ray Charles, a role model for every soul artist of the ’60s. Following Cooke’s untimely death in a shooting incident in 1964, Redding had consciously sought to assume his mantle by recording his songs and emulating his determination to be his own man in the music business.
Otis’ second number, “Respect,” was one of the three hit singles he released in 1965, the year he emerged as a full-fledged R&B recording star. “Respect” was a prototype of the sort of driving dance tune with a stamping beat and a syncopated chorus of horns that defined the sound of the Stax label, but it had recently gained a new and greater significance as a vehicle for Aretha Franklin, who recorded it as part of her stunning debut on Atlantic Records in the spring of 1967. Franklin turned Redding’s song—in which “respect” served as a euphemism (“give it to me”) for sexual attention—into a woman’s demand for the real thing, complete with a newly written release in which she literally spelled out the meaning of the word. By the time of Monterey, this feminist reprise of “Respect” stood at #1 on the Billboard Pop charts. “This is a song that a girl took away from me,” Otis told the crowd. “But I’m still going to do it anyway.”
“I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” was another of Redding’s breakthrough hits from 1965, and another hallmark of his style: a slow, imploring ballad in 12/8 time, paced by wistful arpeggios on the guitar and stately crescendos from the horns. “This is the Love Crowd, right?” Otis asked, alluding to the hippies’ atmospheric embrace of love (advertised by a banner reading “Music, Love, and Flowers” that ran the length of the stage). He then launched into a romantic testimonial of excruciating intensity, addressed to a woman whose “love is growing cold... as our affair grows old.” Phrasing tremulously behind the beat, edging into the song like a man edging into a difficult conversation, Otis couched his appeal in expressions of empathy (“you are tired, and you want to be free”) and gratitude (“with you my life has been so wonderful”), before plunging into an ad-libbed coda in which he searched and strained for the words that might persuade her to change her mind: pleading (“I’m down on my knees”), protesting (“No! Don’t make me stop”), and finally culminating in a thunderous declaration of “Good God Almighty! I love you.” In the nuanced emotionality of his singing on this song, Otis seemed to be drawing on a different dimension of feeling and experience than that of any other performer who would be heard at Monterey, and it dramatized the tension that lay at the core of his appeal: that a man so physically imposing and overtly self-possessed could indeed be so consumed, so utterly undone, by the force of his yearning, his desire, and his need.
Finally, with the rain coming down, the crowd in an uproar (“he had the audience spinning like a chicken on a spit,” one reviewer wrote), and the local authorities demanding an immediate end to the evening, Redding concluded his performance with a pair of “cover” tunes. The first was a frenetic rendition of the Rolling Stones’ hit “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” whose presence in his repertoire reflected a conscious effort to cater to a rock audience—the impulse that brought him to Monterey in the first place. By stripping the song down to its bare essentials of title, hook, and groove (and dispensing with the lyrics’ pretensions to social commentary), Redding recast “Satisfaction” as a swaggering carnal comedy that took his hypersexualized stage presence nearly to the point of self-parody. In addition to earning him an R&B hit in 1966, the song had served as a familiar crowd pleaser on his European tours, where many fans, aware of the usual pattern of white appropriation, mistakenly assumed that the Stones’ version must have been a cover of Redding’s original.
The finale, “Try a Little Tenderness,” was something else again. The song itself was a Tin Pan Alley standard, written in the early ’30s by a one-handed American pianist named Harry Woods and a pair of English lyricists, Jimmy Campbell and Reg Connelly, and recorded over the years by the likes of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Perry Como. The Depression-era lyric carried an economic subtext with its account of a woman who gets “weary wearing the same shabby dress.” Redding’s version, released as a single in the fall of 1966, was a seamless synthesis of the two strains of sensibility—soft and hard, seductive and aggressive—that ran through the body of his work. Otis retained the ballad tempo of the original in the opening verses, which he sang with an exaggerated tenderness over the bare accompaniment of whole notes on the bass. (For the crowd at Monterey, he ad-libbed an appreciative reference to “that same old miniskirt dress.”) The instruments drifted in as the song progressed—a looping sax, a distant trill of organ, a thin spine of drums—until the arrival of a jaunty rhythm guitar caused the meter to shift, the beat to solidify, and the entire arrangement to assume the form of one long musical and emotional crescendo. Marching in place, waving his arms, jerking his torso like a man possessed, Otis punctuated his appeal to “hold her, squeeze her, never leave her” with strings of percussive scat syllables, extolling the need for “tenderness” with a ferocious insistence that defied the meaning of the word. When at last he had taken this exhortation as far as it could go—though not before the band had contrived a false ending, generating a dense cloud of sound from which Otis reemerged to sing a final chorus before leaving the stage for good—he had done to “Try a Little Tenderness” what black artists like Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Ray Charles had been doing for half a century to the genteel conventions and coy platitudes with which Tin Pan Alley composers had sought to sing the praises of love: he had cured the song of its cant and sentimentality, transforming it with a startling infusion of urgency and energy into something inextricably real. “I’ve got to go. I don’t want to go,” Otis announced as he walked offstage. And the crowd, which had been standing on its collective feet since the opening number, responded by filling the cold, wet Northern California night with an ovation that lasted nearly ten minutes.
The long and remarkably diverse history of commercial popular music in America has been marked at regular intervals by moments in which a particular artist has connected with a particular audience in a way that would serve to redefine the parameters of popular taste. Famous examples of this during the first half of the 20th century include such landmarks as the 1924 debut of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” before a gathering of black-tie culturati at New York’s Aeolian Hall; the Benny Goodman Band’s extended engagement before throngs of jitterbugging Angelenos at the Palomar Ballroom in 1935; and Frank Sinatra’s appearances before swarms of swooning bobby-soxers at the Paramount Theater in Times Square in 1943. Each of these performances symbolized a larger shift in the popular music and popular culture of the time: Gershwin’s “Rhapsody” heralded the arrival of the Jazz Age; Goodman’s triumph the start of the Swing Era; Sinatra’s success the emergence of the teen-aged audience and the return of the solo singer to primacy in pop. In the decades after World War II, the capacity of network television to command the simultaneous attention of tens of millions of viewers brought an entirely new dimension to these signal musical moments, as demonstrated by the spectacular debuts of Elvis Presley in 1956 and the Beatles in 1964, both of whom were encountered by vast national audiences whose shared experience lent a revelatory quality to these performers’ arrival in the public eye.
By the standards of Presley and the Beatles, certainly, the Monterey Pop Festival was a localized affair, its initial impact confined to the roughly 35,000 people who attended the event (many of whom never actually saw the performers onstage). But the conjunction of not one but three breakthrough performances—by Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin—combined with a host of other factors to turn the festival into exactly the sort of countercultural watershed its promoters had envisioned. As always, timing played a part: two weeks before, at the beginning of June, the Beatles had released their long-awaited eighth album, an ambitious collection of songs called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The record was widely hailed as the most sophisticated expression to date of the expansive musical genre that would henceforth be known simply as “rock,” and it received an unprecedented amount of coverage in the press, inspiring reviews and commentary in newspapers, magazines, and even scholarly journals that had rarely paid serious attention to popular music before. With Sgt. Pepper as their touchstone, the twelve hundred practicing and aspiring journalists who attended Monterey incorporated the festival into a larger narrative that centered on the emergence of rock music as a legitimate and transformative cultural force.
Equally influential was the impact of Monterey on the contingent of agents, managers, and record company executives who attended the festival, checkbooks in hand, for whom the spectacle of 35,000 long-haired, pot-smoking, music-loving hippies served as a crash course in the new demographics of the music business. On the eve of the Beatles’ arrival in the winter of 1964, one marketing study found that 60 percent of the pop singles sold in America were purchased by teenage girls. Now, three years later, pop was evolving into rock; long-playing albums were replacing three-minute singles as the recording medium of choice; free-form, high-fidelity FM radio stations were breaking the stranglehold of Top 40 programming; and the core audience for popular music had expanded from the squealing “teenyboppers” of 1964 into a broad-based coalition of teen-agers, college students, and young adults, a great many of whom associated themselves with the lucrative and seminally American phenomenon of mass-market bohemianism, of which the scene in the Haight-Ashbury was but the tip of a vast psychedelic iceberg.
A defining feature of this new rock audience was that its members belonged to the first generation of white Americans in history who had grown up listening, as a matter of course, to black music on records and radio. Stylistically, American popular music had been in thrall to African American influences since the rise of blackface minstrelsy in the middle of the 19th century. Gershwin, Goodman, Sinatra, and Presley—all were avid students of the black music of their time, and all of them owed their careers to the African American models on which they based their styles. They belonged to the small minority of white Americans and Europeans who had always provided an appreciative audience for black folk songs, spirituals, ragtime, blues, gospel, jazz, and swing. But the great majority of Americans had always partaken of this music secondhand, relying on white imitators and emulators, impersonators and appropriators, to translate the sounds and styles of African American music and dance into forms that were aesthetically and commercially compatible with the standards of white sensibility and the doctrines of white supremacy that had prevailed since the days of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.”
It was not until the late ’40s, when radio stations and independent record labels began to cater in earnest to the new commercial market represented by the millions of blacks who had migrated from the farms and towns of the South to cities across America, that large numbers of white listeners could access the latest styles of black popular music at the click of a dial or the push of a button. And while the booming postwar population of white teenagers still showed an overall preference for bland appropriators like Pat Boone and gifted emulators like Elvis Presley, growing numbers of them began to seek out what they construed as the Real Thing. From the mid ’50s onward, black singers like Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Chuck Berry sold millions of records to black and white listeners alike. Together with the simultaneous entry of black athletes into the realm of professional team sports, this marked the start of a cultural revolution in America, as black faces, black voices, black style, and black prowess gradually became an inescapable presence on the nation’s airwaves, concert stages, and playing fields. It was a cultural revolution whose impact on the consciousness of the nation was compounded, in the wake of the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, by its close affinities with the social revolution known as the civil rights movement.
The Monterey Pop Festival was a product of this cultural revolution. The older members of the audience at Monterey had experienced their musical awakening as teenagers in the ’50s with the advent of rhythm and blues and its mixed-race offspring, rock ’n’ roll. Many of them were drawn in their college years to the folk revival movement of the late ’50s, when the advent of long-playing records prompted the reissue of classic prewar blues recordings by artists like Bessie Smith and Robert Johnson and drew attention to contemporary bluesmen like Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. The younger members of the audience at Monterey had come of age in the early ’60s, listening and dancing to crossover stars like Sam Cooke and Chubby Checker, vocal groups like the Drifters and the Shirelles, and the vanguard of a long parade of talent from Detroit’s Motown label. And from 1964 onward, virtually everyone in attendance at Monterey had been swept up in the excitement surrounding the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and their fellow British bands, who had not only learned the lessons of contemporary black music better than their white American counterparts, but were forthright in paying homage to the black artists they had modeled themselves on.
The promoters of the Monterey Pop Festival were as enthralled by the sounds of black music as the rest of their contemporaries, and they had gone to some lengths to attract a cross section of black talent. Smokey Robinson was placed on the festival’s Board of Governors in hopes of drawing some Motown acts, but Motown’s president Berry Gordy declined the offer, and a number of major black artists followed suit, skeptical of an invitation to play for free in front of 7,500 paying customers.
In the end, the only three African American performers at Monterey were Otis Redding, Jimi Hendrix, and Lou Rawls, but their impact was disproportional, for Redding and Hendrix were among the acknowledged sensations of the festival. Like Redding, Hendrix had cut his teeth on the so-called “chitlin’ circuit” of southern clubs and auditoriums, working as a journeyman guitarist with R&B revues. But his path to Monterey had taken him on a circuitous route through the Greenwich Village folk scene and the Swinging London pop scene, in the course of which he had affected the persona of a psychedelic gypsy to complement his virtuoso synthesis of blues, soul, and acid rock. Hendrix’s performance—a ragged, rambling, theatrical set in which he famously set fire to his guitar—came on the final night of the festival, and it did more to showcase his persona than his musical genius.
Otis Redding’s appearance, by contrast, came at the end of a long day and evening of music that consisted mainly of white blues and blues-based acid rock. It fell to Redding and his incomparable band to embody the standard of authenticity that was aspired to by all of the music that preceded them at Monterey. His overpowering performance came as a vivid reminder that black music, dance, humor, dialect, and religion had served as America’s true “counterculture” for more than a hundred years. When Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead observed that it was like seeing God onstage, he was speaking for a generation of young people who would seek to base a religion of their own on the hedonistic creed of “sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll.”
In the long run, the cultural legacy of Monterey was assured by the promoters’ decision to have the entire festival documented by a team of filmmakers led by D. A. Pennebaker, who was hired on the basis of his recent cinéma vérité portrait of Bob Dylan, Don’t Look Back. Shooting in color with handheld cameras, Pennebaker and his crew divided their attention between the performers onstage, the promoters backstage, the audience in the arena, and the carnivalesque army of camp followers who filled the festival grounds. Their film was originally intended to be aired as an hour-long television special, but an early screening proved much too much for the ABC executives who had paid the promoters a half million dollars for the broadcast rights. Freed from the editorial constraints of network television, Pennebaker spent more than a year editing the footage into a 90-minute feature for theatrical release.
By the time Monterey Pop reached theaters in January 1969, the Summer of Love was ancient history, the utopian scene in the Haight-Ashbury had collapsed in a Malthusian crisis of indigence and drug crime, and the entire tenor of public life in America had taken a Shakespearean turn. In the intervening 18 months, the war in Vietnam had spiraled wildly out of control; the moral momentum of the civil rights movement had been sapped by the polarized forces of Black Power and White Backlash and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; and the American political landscape had been transformed by the abdication of Lyndon Johnson, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the fiasco of the Democratic Convention in Chicago, and the election of Richard Nixon as president in November 1968.
In the world of popular music, much had changed as well. The Mamas and the Papas had disbanded, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix had become international stars, the Jefferson Airplane had appeared on the cover of Life magazine, Fillmore-style rock ballrooms had opened across the country, and all of the San Francisco bands that performed at the festival had overcome their scruples about “commercialism” and signed with major corporate record labels. Having reached the economic milestone of a billion dollars in annual sales, the record industry was well on its way to surpassing the film industry as the most profitable and, in the minds of the young, glamorous branch of American show business. A major component of this ascendancy involved the unprecedented levels of crossover success and recognition that were now being attained by African American artists. In January 1969, black singers and groups accounted for seven of the Top 10 and half of the Top 40 singles on the Billboard Pop charts.
Yet the most poignant change in the world of popular music between the time of the Monterey festival and the release of Monterey Pop was that Otis Redding was dead, killed along with his pilot, his valet, and four members of his touring band in the crash of their private plane into a lake near Madison, Wisconsin, on December 10, 1967. In the weeks before this tragedy, Redding had recorded a spate of new songs, the most distinctive of which, a contemplative ballad called “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay,” reflected a major leap in both the style and content of his music. Following its release in January 1968, “Dock of the Bay” sold more than two million copies, posthumously earning Redding his first #1 single, his first Top 10 album, and precisely the sort of mainstream success he had sought at Monterey.
Redding’s death turned “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” and his appearance in Monterey Pop into memorials to his singular talent, and it added his name to a roster of distinguished popular musicians that included Bix Beiderbecke, Robert Johnson, Charlie Christian, Hank Williams, Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline, and Sam Cooke—artists whose careers ended not only before their time, but in their absolute prime, when there was every reason to expect that their finest work was yet to come. (Eerily, within a few years, he would be joined in this company by both of his costars at Monterey, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.) Redding’s labels, Stax and Atlantic, culled enough material from the unfinished tracks he recorded in the fall of 1967 to release a series of singles and albums in the three years after his death. Some of these records ranked with his very best work. But they still only hinted at what might have been, for Redding was preparing to make significant changes in his approach to recording and performing during the last months of his life. His final entry on the record charts came in the fall of 1970, when Reprise Records released a live album of his and Jimi Hendrix’s “historic performances” at Monterey.
Adapted from Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life Copyright © 2017 by Jonathan Gould. Published by Crown Archetype, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Jonathan Gould, author of Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life, is a former professional musician and the author of Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain & America. He divides his time between a home in Brooklyn and a house near Hudson, New York.