The Riddle of Otis Redding

Discussion in 'Music' started by Pompo, Nov 22, 2007.

  1. Pompo

    Pompo New Member


    The Capital Times

    It is the stuff of Madison legend and it is a legend that has neitherfaded nor been fully resolved in the three decades since a twin-engineBeechcraft plunged into Lake Monona on Dec. 10, 1967.

    that one of the seven people killed in the crash was 26-year-old OtisRedding, one of the world's hottest young soul singers, ensured that theevents of that dank, misty day, 30 years ago next Wednesday, would pass intomyth.Stories told, retold, embellished, invented. Did anyone survive? Were drugsfound on board? What became of the massive amounts of cash that Redding wasknown to carry? Was Redding himself at the controls of the plane, as anEsquire magazine article once asserted?

    Otis Redding was the discovery of promoter Phil Walden. As a teen in thelate '50s Otis was going by the name Rockhouse and playing segregated clubsaround his native Macon, Ga. Walden brought him to Memphis and Stax studio,where Redding recorded his first hit, ``These Arms of Mine,'' in 1962.

    By 1967, there was no stopping him. He was huge in Europe and on the circuit, and in early December Redding was in the studio in Memphisrecording an album containing a soul ballad he was convinced would break himthrough to white audiences and superstardom. He'd begun writing it whileliving in a boathouse in San Francisco. He called it ``(Sittin' on) the Dockof the Bay.''

    Finished in the studio Dec. 7, Redding began a planned tour with his band,the Bar-Kays. They played a gig in Nashville and early on the morning of Dec.9 flew to Cleveland. They played three shows Saturday night and slept in. At12:30 Sunday afternoon, the singer, six members of the band and pilot RichardFraser boarded the twin-engine Beechcraft at Cleveland's Hopkins Field andheaded for Madison.

    They were to play two shows at The Factory, a West Gorham Street club whereCanterbury Booksellers now stands. Their scheduled warm-up band, The GrimReapers, later gained fame as Cheap Trick.

    Sometime after 3 p.m., with the plane 10 miles south of the Madisonairport, flight control was transferred from Chicago Federal Aviation Controlto Madison. At 3:25, when the plane was four miles south of the Madisonairport, above Squaw Bay, the pilot was given clearance to land. That was thelast communication.

    Three minutes later, a resident of the 4600 block of Tonyawatha Trail inMonona, Bernard Reese, standing in his back yard, heard a sputtering engine inthe fog and low clouds above Lake Monona. Suddenly the plane flashed throughthe overcast sky, its left wing dipping, and hit the water with a loud bangabout a half mile off the southeast shore. It rested on the surface forseveral minutes and then sank, by which time Reese had run inside and phonedpolice.

    It took the police boat with four officers 17 minutes to reach the site.The officer steering, Charles Campbell, was a pilot himself and familiar withthe approach path. They ran into debris and one man floating with the help ofa cushion -- Bar-Kay trumpeter Ben Cauley, 20, the only survivor.

    Cauley's recollections are included in the official Madison police reportsof the crash. Sgt. Ted Mell, one of the officers in the boat, noted that alongwith Cauley, two others were found floating, not breathing, in the water --Bar-Kay Jimmie King and the pilot. From Mell's report: ``They located no othersurvivors; however, they did pick up a small dark gray attache case.''

    Redding's wife, Zelma, flew to Madison the next day with Twiggs Lyndon, whoworked for Phil Walden, Otis' manager. After visiting Cauley in his MethodistHospital room, the two went to the morgue -- Otis' body had been found. He wasstrapped in the cockpit next to the pilot's seat and had not been flying theplane himself, as Esquire writer Robert Sam Anson had speculated.

    From the report of officer Ralin Phillips: ``There was a head wound onRedding, right between his eyes, plus several other cuts around his face andneck. The right leg was also broken.

    A search of the body of Redding produced one Bulova watch, one blackleather billfold and $302 in cash.'' Also what appeared to be a package ofmarijuana, Phillips noted. Missing cash: Zelma Redding wanted to know aboutthe large amounts of cash Otis would have been carrying from the Nashville andCleveland shows. A Dec. 13, 1967, article in The Capital Times contained thispassage: ``Still missing is Redding's attache case...which his wife, Zelma,and booking agent, Twiggs Lyndon, said he carried on the plane.''

    Was that the ``small dark gray attache case'' referred to in Sgt. Mell'searliest report of the crash? I put that question to Mell in 1983 and heresponded, ``To be frank with you, I don't even remember any attache case.''At the time I also asked a Monona officer who worked the case, WilliamDiebold, the same question. ``You want something for the record on thatattache case?'' he said. ``You won't get it.''

    On Dec. 13 a federal aviation investigator complained to Phillips thatluggage recovered from the crash had been rifled through. From Phillips' laterreport: ``I later checked at the station and was informed that officers hadbeen search this luggage for the money Mrs. Redding hadreported her deceased husband had been carrying.''

    Yet there is no police report on such a search.

    In the end, no great sums of cash were found -- or if they were, theystayed with those who found them. All the bodies were eventually recovered.The police reports referred to marijuana on the plane, but a 1981 article inthe Madison Music Guide said cocaine and opium were found as well. I can findno other mention of it and no officers involved in the investigation everspoke on the record about drugs other than marijuana. Aftermath: The monthafter the crash, Phil Walden and Twiggs Lyndon released ``(Sittin on) the Dockof the Bay'' and it was the huge smash Redding had predicted, topping theBillboard Hot 100 chart for several weeks running and selling over a millioncopies.

    But Lyndon, who had come to Madison with Otis' wife, was headed fortrouble. He stabbed a man, went to prison and upon getting out died in askydiving accident some believed to be suicide. Friends said he feared growingold.

    Walden had problems as well. His Capricorn Records went through bankruptcyand another of his stars, Duane Allman, died in a motorcycle accident in 1980.Capricorn Records survived, though, and Walden as president recently gave theAssociated Press a nice quote about the ``magnificence'' of Redding's music. A1992 CD, ``The Very Best of Otis Redding,'' sold more than 500,000 copies.

    A reporter tracked down Ben Cauley, the one survivor of the crash, in 1992.Cauley and his wife, Shirley, were living in Memphis and had seven children.Cauley said he was working as a studio musician.

    In 1986, the city of Madison erected some memorial benches in Redding'shonor in Law Park. Last summer, with the opening of Monona Terrace, thebenches were relocated -- and rededicated -- in the Evjue Gardens atop theconvention center.

    Zelma Redding didn't make it back to Madison for either tribute. Now 55,she lives on a 440-acre ranch outside of Macon. She said fans still show up topay their respects to her husband, the soul legend who died 30 years ago inthe frigid waters of Lake Monona. She recently told a reporter that kids whoweren't even born when Otis died come and stare at the marble tomb where herests, a short walk from the ranch.

    The visitors weep, and when they've gone, Zelma does what she always doeswhen she thinks of her late husband. She puts on an Otis Redding album, andremembers.
    2 people like this.
  2. green medicine

    green medicine New Member

    Otis was the man!! thanks for that.
    Strange that another musical legend, Stevie Ray Vaughn, also died in southern Wisconsin in an aircraft incident 15-20 years after Otis.
    2 people like this.
  3. lew scannon

    lew scannon Banned

    Actually, the motorcycle accident that took the life of Duane Allman occurred on Oct 29, 1971. The Allman Brothers Band was taking a vacation break from the Eat A Peach recording sessions at the time.
  4. 29yeartoker

    29yeartoker New Member

    I love the song "These Arms of Mine". It is a beautiful song. I had never heard it until about 4-5 years ago. That was also the first time I had even heard of Otis Redding. Very talented and is such a shame that good talent like that had to die so young. At least he did leave an impression on the world and left us some good music to enjoy.

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