The day the music died wasn’t when Buddy Holly went down in that now infamous plane crash; the music stopped flowing on December 10, 1967, when Otis Redding died in a plane crash in the icy waters of a Wisconsin lake. During his short career, Redding built the reputation of a small Southern studio, Stax, generating a funky and distinct sound whose energy fueled the music of Rufus and Carla Thomas, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. and the MGs, and Sam and Dave, among others.
Although the Stax story has been well told by Robert Gordon in Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion (2013) in Dreams to Remember: Otis Redding, Stax Records, and the Transformation of Southern Soul, Mark Ribowsky draws on interviews and extensive archives to paint in rich and colorful detail the poignant story of a singer and songwriter who never felt comfortable with himself or his success, yet whose confident stage persona and canny genius with a song mesmerized audiences from rock palaces like the Fillmore West to New York’s Apollo Theater to the stage of the Monterey Jazz Festival, where he wrung out the crowd’s emotions with “Try a Little Tenderness.”
Born the son of a preacher in Macon, Georgia, Redding discovered his love of rhythm and blues very young, and by the time he was a teenager he was singing in local clubs. A rousing storyteller, Ribowsky energetically chronicles Redding’s rise from local singer to the King of Soul, as well as his marital difficulties, his personal insecurities and fears, and his reluctance to embrace the fame coming his way, often preferring to work on his farm in Macon where he felt most comfortable. Along the way, Ribowsky skillfully weaves in the threads of the songs and albums that were making Redding’s career, especially his 1965 hit “Respect,” a song that illustrates the singer’s fear of losing his marriage in the give-and-take of his rocky relationship with his wife, Zelma.
Ribowsky’s book is a fast-paced and entertaining tale of a man, a time and a place where black and white musicians, in spite of the racial tensions swirling around them, came together simply by playing the sweet soul music that transcends any divisions.