Forty years ago today, the plane carrying Otis Redding and some of his band members crashed into Lake Monona on the way to their show in Madison, Wisconsin, not far from where I grew up.
After far too long a silence, the city had a fitting celebration of the man and his music last week, including appearances by Otis’ wife Zelma, and the lone survivor of the crash, trumpeter Ben Cauley.
I didn’t know that the owner of the one my favorite bookstores in the world was the promoter for the show, or that a member of one of the opening bands (the unfortunately named The Grim Reapers) was none other than one of my favorite guitarists, Mr. Rick Nielsen, who went on to form Cheap Trick.
What I do know is this: it’s about damned time that Mr. Redding is honored in a larger fashion. Since Monona Terrace was built, I’ve been sure to go visit the meager plaque commemorating the man and his band ever single time I’m back in town, even for just a few moments, and when I was living in Madison I could frequently be found sitting there with lunch and just looking out over the water, thinking about what was, and what could have been.
And I know that I can’t imagine my life without “Cigarettes and Coffee”, or “Try a Little Tenderness”, “These Arms of Mine”, or “Ole Man Trouble” shaping it, running into my bloodstream and becoming part of who I am. For that, I say thank you, Mr. Redding. It’s not enough, but it’s all I’ve got.
If you’ve got a few minutes today, spare a thought, and throw on some vinyl — Otis’ voice sounds better on vinyl than just about any other singer in the world.
I promise, your soul will be better for it.