Intellectually complex life of Otis Redding (1941-1967), the doomed King of Soul.
It’s a supreme irony, at least of a kind, that Redding never lived to see his “Dock of the Bay” hit the mainstream pop charts, as it did just after he died in an icy plane crash. “Redding seemed primed to carry some sort of soul mantle,” writes Ribowsky (The Last Cowboy: The Life of Tom Landry, 2013, etc.) of the period when Redding’s star was just rising. Though it lasted just a couple of years, that period irrevocably changed the face of American pop, when AM radio played black and white music side by side, Creedence next to James Brown next to the Beatles. Redding was a slightly more countrified progeny of Brown’s who, like so many other soul singers, defied expectations and sometimes confounded fans. As Ribowsky remembers, Redding was friendly with a white supremacist sheriff who would later issue shoot-to-kill orders on blacks suspected of looting. Was that Uncle Tom–ism? Redding was so smart that there must have been a method to that particular madness, something that went along with his pointed habit of counting box office receipts after a show, pistol in waistband. Ribowsky serves up some tantalizing what-if scenarios: if Redding had not been in that plane crash, would he have drifted into jazz or soft pop—or even country? Might he have found common cause with Jimi Hendrix, who seemed so much his opposite at Monterey Pop, Redding sweaty and masterful, Hendrix “soldering generational nihilism with undefined sexual rage,” both blowing the collective minds of the audience. Ribowsky considers Redding in the context of racial justice and injustice, the civil rights movement, and, most important, popular music as it spread through a nation hungry for the message brought by the preacher’s son who “had precious little time to enjoy the air up there.”
Excellent from start to finish, demanding a soundtrack of Stax hits as background listening.