Image via Wikimedia Commons/Volt Records
Much has been made of the February 1959 plane crash outside Clear Lake, Iowa, that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper. Memorialized in song as “The Day the Music Died,” it's remembered as one of the great tragedies in music history.
No songs have been written about the plane that crashed into Wisconsin's frigid Lake Monona on December 10, 1967. The date isn't observed with a yearly memorial concert, and it doesn't occupy the place in the hearts and minds of pop culture lovers that the Clear Lake crash has. But five musicians lost their lives on that December day, and one of them had a talent that easily rivaled any of the three rockers above. He was Otis Redding.
Redding was traveling from Cleveland, Ohio to Madison, Wisconsin, from one gig to the next, along with his backing band, the Bar-Kays. Just three days earlier, Redding had recorded a new song that was a bit of a departure from his energetic, soulful style – "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay." Record execs weren't sure about the song's prospects, but Redding liked it and thought it represented an exciting new direction for his music.
As Redding wound up his concert gigs and a TV appearance in Cleveland, fans at the University of Wisconsin and around Madison were looking forward to seeing Redding play at the Factory nightclub, supported by opening act the Grim Reapers (who would evolve into Cheap Trick a few years down the road). Redding would have blown them away with songs like his recent single, "Knock on Wood"…
…And enduring favorites like his 1965 chart-topper, "Respect" (the fans probably liked Redding fan Aretha Franklin's cover version, too, released just a few months before the crash).
But the concert was not to be. The weather was bad, rainy and foggy. The plane was, as friend James Brown recalled, outdated and overloaded (in fact, Brown tried to convince Redding not to fly in it). The pilot made it almost all the way to the band's destination, but less than four miles from the airport, the plane went down. Only one musician survived, Bar-Kay trumpeter Ben Cauley. Four of his bandmates died: guitarist Jimmy King, keyboardist Ronnie Caldwell, saxophonist Phalon Jones, and drummer Carl Cunningham. Redding's manager passed away as well.
And so, of course, did Otis Redding. The singer was just 26 years old, already a major star and poised for further greatness. He was looking forward to the new sound he previewed in "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay"… and his fans were anticipating more amazing performances like this one at the Monterey Pop Festival, just half a year before the music died.
Written by Linnea Crowther