The death of Otis Redding in that tragic plane crash near Madison, Wis., almost 40 years ago came as a shock to everybody, except, perhaps, Otis himself.
As untimely as his passing was, Redding, it seems, may have known beforehand that his time on this earth was up.
At least that’s the impression you’re left with after watching the new DVD “Dreams To Remember: The Legacy of Otis Redding,” from Reelin’ In The Years Productions and Stax Records.
“When you watch the film, it wasn’t a conscious decision on our part, but it almost seems like from day one, he had some kind of premonition,” says one of the documentary’s producers, David Peck.
As evidence, there’s the Redding’s song “Just One More Day,” and then, in the film, Redding responds to an interviewer asking him a fairly innocuous question about his future by saying, “Well, in five years, if I’m living ..."
“What 25-year-old man talks about that?” asks Peck.
Does that constitute precognition? Maybe not, but there is more. As Zelma Redding, Otis’ wife, relates in the documentary, Otis called her from the road the morning of that fateful flight and asked to speak to his children.
“And she’s like, they’re not up yet,” says Peck, but Otis insists on talking to them.
“And then, they told me a story that [Otis’] brother Rogers Redding ... Otis had desperately been trying to call him days before he died and could not reach him, and you know, his brother was really cut up about that,” says Peck. “So, it was almost like he was trying to tie up loose ends.”
Spliced in among 16 vintage TV performances — available here for the first time on DVD — are a new video for “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” featuring footage of the boathouse where Redding wrote the song, and interviews with some of the people who were closest to Redding, including Stax Records founder Jim Stewart, the Memphis Horns’ Wayne Jackson and Booker T. & The MG’s guitarist Steve Cropper. Cropper talked about receiving the news of Otis’ death in one of the film’s most poignant moments.
“The one that moved me was really when Steve Cropper said that he was mixing [(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay], and they hadn’t even found his body yet,” says Peck. “That’s just a dagger. That’s like someone stuck a knife in my chest.”
It’s impossible to tell the story of Otis Redding without dealing with his death, but Peck and fellow producer Phil Galloway, who worked on similar documentaries about the Temptations and Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, took great pains not to exploit the tragedy.
“When we chose how to cut this small portion of [the film], obviously we didn’t want to show images of the plane or just a bunch of kind of famous images associated with it that are a little more morbid,” explains Galloway. “We just really wanted to go with people who remembered — obviously, Zelma getting that phone call of Otis’ in the morning, and that’s really powerful; Steve Cropper talking about having to mix ‘Dock of the Bay’ over his body; [Memphis Horns’ trumpet player] Wayne Jackson talking about how he heard it. We really consciously wanted to stay on them more.”
Conducted by longtime music journalist and Stax Records authority Rob Bowman, the 40 minutes of interviews paint a portrait of a beloved artist who touched everyone he met.