I don’t mean to brag or anything, but back in college, my roommate Ryan and I used to throw pretty killer parties. We would generally pack a hundred people or so in our apartment which was no bigger than two cubicles smashed together. A quiet night would quickly become a swirl of warm beer, cheap whiskey, and cigarette smoke. We would be up all night drinking, fighting, and staging Fight For Your Right to Party sing-a-longs. Oddly enough, the cops were never called. Each went off without a hitch. The only time the cops did show at our place was when I left my stereo on in my room while a handful of us watched the Sox game on some random Friday night. It was 8PM and suddenly there were four of Boston’s finest crashing through our door and demanding the party come to an end and then to know where everyone was hiding. Boston is weird like that. Cause a ruckus and you get left alone. Mind your own business and someone is bound to fuck with you.
Back to the parties; the last hangers on wouldn’t stumble out until about four or five in the morning. The lucky few who remained were introduced to a beautiful post party tradition called “Sketti Eggs”. The dish consists of pasta noodles and eggs prepared with generous portions of bacon and cheese. A delightful concoction that is great either when there are simply left over noodles you need to get rid of, or if you are attempting to stave off a hangover. Seeing that I’ve made a short story quite long, I’ll get to the point. There is only one man that we would listen to when attempting to prepare a meal on partied out legs. That man is Otis Redding. Otis is the perfect jam for those late nights. You see after a party, there are good things that can happen, and there are bad. The bad options are passed out in a random gutter, puking in said gutter, getting into a fistfight, or at best, and or attempting to get some bad blackout sex. But the good is simply this, cranking Otis and eating; with Otis there’s no chance of the bad. When you’ve got Otis, you’ve got the perfect party ending.
Otis got his start by playing small town church talent shows at the age of 15. After becoming a long running talent show champ, he was banned from competition. Soon after he and his band traveled to Memphis for a recording session at the then little known famous Stax Records. After witnessing what they knew to be a future sensation, Stax owners Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton requested Otis record with their house band. In his first session Otis recorded a handful of tracks, but during that first session, Otis recorded one of his classics, These Arms of Mine, which was released in 1962.
Otis’ rise to stardom had begun. Stax had found the man that would put their already explosive lineup on the map. Redding was joining up with the likes of Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Booker T. and The MG’s , and The Mar-Keys. It was a veritable murderers row of Southern Soul. Stax was to R&B, what SUB POP would be for Seattle Grunge. They were THE label. Over the next five years, Otis and the gang toured the world, exciting crowds with a traditionally black sound that was unknown to white audiences of the era. Songs like Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song), Satisfaction, and Respect became instant classics. This world takeover came to its peak in ’67 when Otis played the Monterey Pop festival, sharing the same bill as the Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin. That festival is still revered today as possibly the greatest collection of sixties music to date. Sadly, soon Otis’ story would come to an end.
Otis’ death was caused not by drugs, but a plane crash. His small prop plane, splashed down into a Wisconsin lake shortly finishing a small club gig. How many times has this happened? I’m actually more shocked if you’re a celebrity and you don’t die in a plane crash. If I have any advice, it’s this. Pass on the pilot’s license fellas. Leave the flying to war vets who have no problem landing a 747 after knocking back a few Glenlivets. Can we as the public make a law to prevent any celebrity from manning the controls of an aircraft? At the very least we’d be protecting ourselves from plummeting planes poorly piloted by the likes of Paula Poundstone. Paula isn’t exactly a celeb anymore, but that alliteration was too hard to pass up.
Despite his early death and status as one of the greatest soul singers of all time, I feel Otis is often forgotten by our generation. Meanwhile, people love to wax poetically about the early deaths of Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. In reality the only one who was truly destined for life long greatness was Jimi, the guy was a virtuoso. Meanwhile Joplin was a drunk, Cobain a junkie, and in all honesty I just hate The Doors. So much meandering organ play, I can’t get behind that. Those guys died at 27. They had the “privilege” to die at the pinnacle of their success. Turning them into rock and roll Jesuses. But Redding bought it at 26, just short of a peak that was unprecedented in his genre.
While Otis may be the perfect ending to a long party, his party was cut far too short. Atlantic went on to release three albums of his unreleased material post humorously. But unlike Tupac, the Otis well was not bottomless. There were no lost tracks to find. His voice was limited to a mere handful of albums, which is a crying shame to say the least. While his music is timeless, it’s music like his that causes me to think I was born in the wrong time. I’m never going to understand Skrillex, but I’ve always understood Otis. Everyone understands Otis. He is transcendent.
Usually as the eggs were finishing up, Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay wouldcome on. It was Redding’s final recording before his death. It was also his biggest hit. I would gather my plate of food, serve up anyone else who was hungry and then head to the stereo to turn the music off for the evening. I may remember this wrong, but it seemed like every time I got to the stereo to turn it off, the whistling bit of the song would just be starting. I couldn’t help but stop and listen. Otis is the type of guy whose songs causes you to give pause. There’s really nothing better, those moments where you can’t help but stop and simply listen. So this week, let’s all give pause and enjoy the sounds of Otis.