Sunday, November 13, 2016

Otis Redding

Three days after recording (Sitttin on) The Dock of a Bay, Otis Redding's life would end tragically in the frigid waters of Madison, Wisconsin's Lake Monona on Sunday, December 10, 1967. Redding was only 26 years old.

Shortly after the song was released in January, 1968, it would become the first posthumous number-one single in U.S. chart history. Years later, in 1989, Redding would also posthumously be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Another song he wrote, Respect, would posthumously become a number one hit for Aretha Franklin.

He and his band, The Bar-Kays, were travelling to Madison to play a gig at the Factory nightclub, near UW-Madison at the corner of Gorham and State Street, arriving from previous performances in Cleveland, Ohio.

They were on their final approach to Truax field, now Dane County Regional Airport, in heavy rain and fog, only three to four miles from their destination, when inexplicably they would crash into the middle of Lake Monona.

The pilot, Redding, and band members, Jimmy King, Ronnie Caldwell, Phalon Jones, and Carl Cunningham would perish. The probable cause of the crash of Redding's twin engine Beechcraft H18 would be categorized as undetermined by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Remarkably, one bandmate would survive, trumpeter Ben Cauley. He recalls he was sleeping prior to the crash around 3:30pm in the afternoon, just behind Redding, and the last thing he remembers was unbuckling his seatbelt, which may have saved his life. Next thing he knew, he was hanging onto a seat cushion to stay afloat in the area of Squaw Bay on Lake Monona.

Cauley would be in the water 20-25 minutes waiting for rescue, and would suffer from nightmares about the accident for the remainder of his life.

A nearby resident of Lake Monona heard the crash and phoned authorities, who responded in approximately 15 minutes. An excellent in-depth article on the cause of the accident (and a larger version of the map shown here) is on the Willy Street Blog.

After Cheap Trick's performance that night at the Factory (their opening act), an announcer came on stage to tell the audience that Otis Redding's plane had crashed into Lake Monona.

Redding's body, still strapped in his seat, was recovered the next day from the bottom of the lake, but a large amount of cash that he carried with him wasn't.

Photos of the plane and Redding being removed from the crash site

His widow, who travelled to Madison the next day, said he always carried a very large amount of cash in the form of revenue collected and to pay for the bands many expenses associated with travelling to gigs.

Early police reports mentioned “a small dark gray attache case” that was recovered from the lake, but it was absent from later reports, and it was never found.

However, Evansville farmer named Chris Dickert, also recalls seeing the case, too. He said he and a neighbor, Bernie Reese, heard the plane crash happen. When they hurried out in Reese’s boat to help, Dickert said he pulled a gray attache case with the initials “O.R.” out of the water.

In 1997, a trio of marble benches at Monona Terrace's William T. Evjue Rooftop Garden and a plaque commemorating the passing of Redding and his bandmates was unveiled. They overlook Lake Monona - and the site of the tragic crash.

The memorial plaque inscription reads:
"Otis Redding - The King of Soul Singers - 1941-1967: This seating area is dedicated to honor the memory of Otis Redding, Jr., who lost his life in a plane crash in Lake Monona on December 10, 1967 while en route to a Madison engagement. Known as the "King of the Soul Sngers," Redding was acclaimed during his life in France and England as the world's top popular male singer. Four months after his death, he achieved his first American number one record with "Dock of the Bay." On the morning of the flight to Madison, Redding had been warned of bad weather and was advised to postpone his trip. His loyality to his Madison fans forced him to proceed. It was the only engagement of his career that he ever missed. Otis Redding stands with Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Same Cooke in the first rank of American rhythm and blues singers. - Erected 1997 by the Otis Redding Memorial Fund."
Betty Lou Cruises, a local cruise line on Lakes Mendota and Monona, travels over the location of the accident where Redding and his bandmates perished on their Lake Monona cruises.

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