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Rock History 101: Otis Redding at the Monterey Pop Festival

on October 03, 2010, 8:00am
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On June 1, 1967 the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and with it began the “Summer of Love”.  Two weeks later, the “Love Crowd” gathered in a small California town for the first ever multi-day rock event, the Monterey Pop Festival. The festival was planned to reflect rock music (and its various extensions) as a legitimate art form in much the same way as the long running Newport Jazz and Newport Folk Festivals did for those genres. Along those lines the promoters booked acts ranging from blues, rock, folk, psychedelia, soul, and jazz all the way to Ravi Shankar. The festival is remembered for being the first major American appearance by the Who and expatriate Jimi Hendrix. Janis Joplin also made her breakout appearance at Newport with her tearing-down-the-house rendition of “Ball and Chain”. However in addition to the guitar torching performance by Hendrix, it was another black American musican (remember, this is 1967) that may be the most talked about and fondly remembered performance of the festival: Otis Redding.

During the festival’s inception Otis Redding and most of the Stax roster of artists were touring Europe with a Stax rhythm & blues and soul revue. While in Europe the musicians played to mostly white audiences and the reception they received was quite different than what they were used to in the States. In the traditional soul/ R&B revues, artists would perform a give and take with the audience, especially with the ladies, through both the songs and the styles of the artists. The pleading, begging songs were specifically for the women. This interactive style of performance was played upon and the energy was generated by literally working with (and sometimes within) the audience.

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.


Maintaining the momentum, Redding paused only briefly to introduce the next song as one “that a girl took away from me.”  As he laughed about it, the band began an uptempo “Respect”, and you realize the girl he was talking about is Aretha Franklin, who a few months earlier released her now epic rendition of Redding’s song.  In fact, upon her recording, Redding actually conceded the song to her; however, as it was an effective song in his performance, he continued to use it to call out to his audience and stomp around stage full of enthusiasm.

Stomping was what Redding was known for. He didn’t dance. He barely moved. His performance at Monterey reflects an altered, perhaps evolved performance from his earlier years on the Revue tours. His performance was as much a reflection of his recent experiences as much as it was a reflection of the audience he was playing for. Redding and his band did not know this audience. Despite playing the Whiskey-A-Go-Go a year earlier in Los Angeles, very few in attendance at Monterey had ever heard of Otis Redding much less actually had heard his music.

Sensing a vibe from the crowd after closing out “Respect”, Redding sought a common cause between himself, the band and the crowd. In calling out to the audience he hit upon the one expression that seemed to provide the theme for the entire festival.

“This is the love crowd right?” he asked. Continuing, “We all love each other don’t we? Am I right? Let me hear you say ‘Yeah’.”


Out of breath, Redding has the band bring the tempo down. Introducing the next song as one of his “soulful numbers,” the audience prepares to witness a Redding performance more typical of his revue tour days. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” is one of the most beautiful, sad, and soulful songs in Redding’s catalog. Written over a bottle of J&B in a Buffalo, NY hotel room with Jerry Butler, this song is a perfect vehicle for the style for which Redding was known for. As Redding delivers the song, the begging, pleading side of the man looms large over the audience as he draws out each and every syllable, teasing the crowd. In effect, through this performance, Redding brought the crowd into his world for a few moments.

Holding the crowd in his hand, Redding raised the momentum one more time with a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” before closing out his set. Putting himself entirely into the performance, Redding turned it into an outpouring of energy and emotion playing the outro at almost triple time. Redding didn’t know who the Rolling Stones were when Steve Cropper first played him “Satisfaction”; however, his version was a very effective stage vehicle to reach out totally to the audience. Adapting a rock song written by a British blues band to play like a rhythm & blues song was an easy task for Redding and seemed so natural to people upon hearing it. It was the sincerity in his performance that led many to believe he had originally written the song and the Rolling Stones had covered him.

“Try a Little Tenderness” was a pop song from the 1930s and a song Redding often used to bring it down for his characteristic finale. Originally inspired by Sam Cooke’s version on “Live at the Copa”, Redding’s performance of “Try a Little Tenderness” is once again so passionate a delivery that it is hard to believe that the song isn’t his. Before Redding began, he dedicated the song to all the mini skirts and even ad-libbed a line about “wearing that same old mini skirt dress.” When he ended the song he left the stage briefly only to return to the thunderous applause of the audience. He even said, “I have to go. I don’t want to go,” as he smiled and waved with adoration and thanks to the audience.


The reviews of his performance in Rolling Stone, The Village Voice, and The Boston Phoenix on top of the dynamism of his performance helped to create a myth and legend around Redding that set him apart, perhaps unfairly, from other soul men. Despite any misconceptions regarding Redding and his contemporaries, the reaction of the public after his  performance at Monterey showed how important  the festival was in exposing Redding to a new audience. It also proved both Walden and Redding right about seizing the opportunity that Monterey offered. His legend was magnified by this one performance.

Redding believed it was his deal with his fan base that he had to give everything he had with every performance. He also knew, though, it would be the music and not the performance that would cross him over. In the post-Monterey wake, Redding began writing songs that were lyrically a departure from his past songs. He was becoming drawn to more sophisticated subject matter and not just the typical tried and true rhythm & blues subjects. While working on “(Sitting On) The Dock of the Bay”, many of those around him didn’t recognize the sound and direction that Redding was headed towards. Some thought that he had lost his way. During the recording of the song there was a discussion as to whether it would be released as a single. Redding’s manager, Walden, was against it, saying at the time he felt the song was too pop for Redding and that the public wasn’t ready to see him in that light. The night after Redding finished “Dock of the Bay”, he called up Walden and said, “It’s my first million seller. I got it.”

Less than six months later, on December 10, 1967, Otis Redding, along with four members of the Bar-Kays and two others, perished in a plane crash near Madison, Wisconsin. He was 26 years old. “(Sitting on) The Dock of the Bay” was released on Stax Record’s Volt label in January 1968 becoming the very first posthumous number 1 single in U.S. chart history. The song went on to win two Grammys: Best R&B Song (for songwriting) and Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, further validating Redding’s sentiments and putting to rest any concerns about the man and his music.

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