by Henry Marks
Otis, The Lovesick Plane Crash Victim: A Mystery
Otis Redding grew up in the Macon, Georgia heat, sweating out sweet soul from his core – and then died in a frozen lake one winter night in Wisconsin 1967, still strapped into the co-pilot seat of the little Beechcraft. His big hit, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” wasn’t even released yet, recorded only three days before his death. But this story is about a much better (and criminally ignored) song, included in the recent May 2010 CD release of Redding’s “Live on the Sunset Strip.”
So much depends upon listening to two versions of the same song. A person doesn’t need to be an audiophile to hear feel the difference; in this case, “Just One More Day” recorded live at The Whiskey A Go Go versus the studio recording: stiflingly cold in comparison, and easily forgettable. Of course that second version is the one you’re going to get if you look on iTunes, a song that sounds like it was recorded after a boring morning in church. Until this year, the live recording at the Whiskey (1966) was only available on a hard-to-find, double gate-fold vinyl compilation, “The Best of Otis Redding” not to be confused with “The Very Best of Otis Redding.”
“Just One More Day” is a revelation of raw emotion and plain old begging, yearning for shit that you just can’t have. It begins when Otis introduces the song: “And this song is something that everybody needs, and everybody wants it, and I’ve been trying to get it.” Then it starts with a barrage of messy horns and the real passionate pleas begin – “I’ve been missing you for so many days / I keep wanting you, darling, in so many ways / I can’t get you off of my mind / ‘Cause true love is so hard to find.” Halfway through, just when you think he’s begged enough, you get another round of yearning, down and dirty on the kitchen floor, hands and knees pleading: “Ooh I want another day, darling / You can let me have that one more day now / Ooh I need one more day, darling / And I can be everything that you want me to be.”
This live version, this pre-vocal-chord-polyp, heart shredding masterpiece might leave you breathless and wondering, who the hell is he singing to? His wife? If he is, love is something new indeed. Redding was with his wife Zelma from the time he was 18 until he died at age 26. You can’t help but think that’s not a lot of time to understand what love is – or even more important; what loss of love is, the torment. Interesting that he wrote most of his own songs – this one included (writing your own songs was pretty rare back then – the phrase ‘singer/songwriter’ hadn’t even been invented yet).
So… Here is the question; can a person have that much passion for someone they commit to from the time they’re 18? Did the son of a preacher man get some of that passion from his father, singing gospel songs… or did he get it from someone else? Unraveling this mystery is tricky. One source says that Otis was having an affair and planned to leave his wife in the year or so before his death – but only one source. He recorded an entire album with Carla Thomas, “King and Queen”, and maybe that’s where the rumor comes from. It has a sordid Johnny Cash/June Carter duet romance feeling to it. If so, this is the kind of love affair that might justify all that heartache. Just imagine the late night secret phone calls, the love letters slipped under backstage dressing room doors, the dirty text messages that would have been sent if it was 2010 and not 1966. It’s the kind of thing that makes for great music…except…it’s just speculation and unproven gossip. And if it’s true, no one’s talking. Just Otis Redding – and he’s dead.
LISTEN TO BOTH TRACKS HERE:
The Studio Version –
The Live Version –