On this day in 1967, soul legend, producer and musical force of nature Otis Redding dies tragically in a plane crash outside Madison, WI. The Stax Records superstar and his band were en route from TV and concert appearances in Cleveland, to a show booked at The Factory in Madison that foggy night; their journey ended in the icy waters of Lake Monona, and only one of eight men aboard survived.
Born and raised in Georgia, Redding quit school at age 15 to support his family, working with Little Richard’s backing band, the Upsetters, and performing at talent shows for prize money. In 1958, he joined Johnny Jenkins’s band, the Pinetoppers, with whom he toured the Southern states as a singer and driver. An unscheduled appearance on a Stax recording session led to a contract and his first single, “These Arms of Mine”, in 1962.
Redding quickly caught on in his own right, initially popular mainly with African-Americans, then reaching a wider American pop music audience. Along with his group, he first played small gigs in the American South. He later performed at the popular Los Angeles night club Whisky a Go Go and toured Europe, performing in London, Paris and other major cities. Redding’s singles, including “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” “I Can’t Turn You Loose” and “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” were topping the R&B charts and the sky was the limit. He also performed at the famous Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, where he delivered a blistering version of his hit “Try a Little Tenderness.”
When he left his final recording session in Memphis that late Autumn, Redding intended to return soon to the song he’d been working on–he still had to replace a whistled verse thrown in as a placeholder with additional lyrics that he’d yet to write. “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay” would be released in its “unfinished” form several weeks after the tragedy, with Redding’s whistled verse a seemingly indispensable part of the now-classic record. It would soon become history’s first posthumous #1 hit and the biggest pop hit of Redding’s career.