In a world where music royalty is actually immortal, Otis Ray Redding Jr. turns 70 tomorrow. The man graced with the sweetest voice to bless my ears would’ve grown more raspy with age, but still carry the aura of the world’s most soulful man. Instead, the voice has been gone for nearly 44 years.
Redding died in a Wisconsin plane crash in 1967 at the age of 26. Exactly one year later, in a coincidence that gives me shudders, my favorite social activist/theologian — Thomas Merton — was accidentally-electrocuted at the age of 53.
The fit is actually rather natural. When I was younger I found it necessary to plaster my bedroom with quotes and photos of the two men (along with Steve Yzerman and other folks). I would’ve found it soul-crushing to know I would never converse with the two or gone on some wild goose chase to obtain something autographed by the men.
But that’s what so incredible about music. If you stripped all my belongings from me save a few records, I could get by on the company of friends, family and music. Redding’s voice kills me nearly every time I hear it. Like Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, David Ruffin and precious few others, the sound of Redding singing cuts to something in the core of me. Something about his delivery — whether it be a cry, a moan or a roar — pokes at whatever it is in my body that triggers emotion. Dude can make me cry. When he borrows Sam Cooke’s legendary “A Change Is Gonna Come,” he owns it til Sam takes it back. It’s magic.
I’m not going to say there aren’t those active in music with some sort of ability to call upon that feeling, but most of them feel like they are trying to find that emotion because someone told them they must. They rarely do. Going back to the debut of Mariah Carey and extending into the American Voice of Talent Idols age, it’s been more vocal range exhibitions than those special moments provided by Motown and its surrounding acts.
In my perfect immortal world, God took Redding up to Heaven to spearhead a new era of awesome from the angel choirs. In fact, days like today with a string of his and Cooke’s music hit me just right and so versatile.
“(Sittin’ On) The Dock of The Bay” is fishing with my father, uncle and me in Red Bay, Ontario when I was a kid.
“I Can’t Turn You Loose” is an impromptu dance party with my wife and son (the former wouldn’t let me name the latter Otis, FYI).
The aforementioned “A Change Is Gonna Come” is hope.
Rest in peace, Otis. Thanks for the pipes.