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Rock History 101: Otis Redding at the Monterey Pop Festival

on October 03, 2010, 8:00am
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The European audiences — well, white audiences in general — were not familiar with many of the traditions of black performers and their performances, and in this case, the traditions of a rhythm & blues revue. As a result, the audiences tended to hold back and observe the performers rather than interact with the artists in much the same manner as they would have observed jazz musicians perform.The Stax artists had to develop a different way of interacting with the audience if they wanted to draw the crowd in.

While on the European tour, Otis Redding’s manager, Phil Walden, met with then Rolling Stones’ manager, Andrew Oldham. A few weeks prior Oldham had been part of a meeting that included among others, Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney, Smokey Robinson, Mick Jagger, Roger McGuinn, and John Phillips. It seemed that these men had intended to put on a rock music festival, perhaps the very first ever rock festival. Oldham was aware that Walden and Redding were looking to expand Redding’s audience and suggested playing the festival.  Walden called Atlantic Records’ guru Jerry Wexler to validate any legitimacy of the event. When Wexler responded that he thought the festival was on the up-and-up, Walden began discussions with John Phillips to have Otis Redding close out the Saturday Night lineup.

Taking the festival very seriously, the energy and effort Redding put into planning his performance even had his wife remark how she had never seen him so nervous. Aware of the importance that Monterey held, he knew that this would be a boost to his career. He said, “It’s gonna put my career up some.  I’m gonna reach an audience I never have before.”

Introduced by comedian Tommy Smothers, the musicians started their set just after one in the morning as rain began to fall. Coming on after a scorching set by the Jefferson Airplane, Redding blasted out onto the stage with a twice tempo performance of Sam Cooke’s “Shake”.  This performance is noteworthy for many reasons but two in particular:  It was unusual to see Redding backed by the band that he used (and every other Stax artist) in the studio. Booker T & the MG’s were the house band for Stax Records and as such did not get much time outside the studio. The European tour changed that. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it demonstrated how Redding had effectively adapted his performing style while in Europe. He worked on getting the audience to respond without the tease that would be present with a black audience. This is most easily demonstrated by his call-and-response of the cry “Shake!” out to the audience demanding they return the holler.  He knew from the get-go that he had them. “When he got that kind of reaction he was better than great,” Walden reflected in a 2002 interview.

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