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WALDEN REMEMBERS OTIS
(March 12th, 2002)
This December 10th is the 32st anniversary of Otis Reddings plane crash. My mind flashes back to 1960 when I first met the man who was to become the King of Soul Music. Otis was a tall, lanky, young man with the biggest smile and a great personality. He was the lead singer for Pat Tea Cake and the Mighty Panthers along with guitarist Johnny Jenkins and another singer, Bill Jones, a/k/a "Little Willie Jones."
My brother Phil had opened a booking agency and was booking the high school and college fraternities. The Mighty Panthers was one of the major bands handled by Phil Walden Artists and Promotions. I became a representative to book the local high school parties. Otis and the band played for almost every fraternity, AKO, POB, LTB, AOS, XD, and the sororities as well. The bookings were not for much money but their show was always a crowd pleaser.
During this time there was a change in the bands name to Johnnie Jenkins and The Pinetoppers featuring Otis Redding and The Shooters (Mutt, Willie Jones, Sonny Cole). Johnny had landed a recording session and a forty-five was released on Tifco Records. In the meanwhile Otis had ventured West to California and recorded "Shes All Right."
Neither of these were big hits but "Love Twist" caught the attention of an Atlantic representative, Joe Galkin, who purchased the masters to the song and had Atlantic release it on their major label. Still not a smash but enough that Atlantic wanted another session for Johnny to be done at Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee with the unbelievable Booker T. and The MGs and The Markeys. Otis went along to drive Johnny to the session. Johnnys session did not go as well as planned but there was some time left over and Otis asked if he could record a song of his own . After a big discussion between Joe Galkin and Jim Stewart, Joe persuaded Jim to let Otis record two songs, "These Arms of Mine" and "Hey, Hey Baby." The second song sounded like a new Little Richard record and since Little Richard had retired from Rock and Roll this was the A-side of the 45 ("push" or "plug" side).
Months went by and the record sold mildly in Macon and a few other nearby cities. After nine months, Hamp Swain, a/k/a The King, a/k/a King Bee, a/k/a Deacon Swain began to play "These Arms of mine". Sales buzzed locally and soon enlisted was the disk jockey from WLAC in Nashville, Tennessee. John Richbourg was known as John R. They both played Otis record until sales were beginning to show up all across the country and the record company wanted more recording sessions set up right away.
Every record that Otis recorded after that was a chart maker in BILLBOARD, CASHBOX, and RECORD WORLD magazines. Otis career had been launched and was in the stage of becoming a real money-maker.
Phil had graduated from Mercer University and was commissioned a second Lieutenant in the Army. I was a student at Mercer University when Phils orders came in. He was to serve two years overseas in Germany and I was chosen to try and keep the company going during Phils absence.
Working in the office was a big change for all of us. Otis and I began to really get to know and feel each other out. We came from two different backgrounds. It was our goal to just keep the doors open until Phils return. During these years Otis and I became very close friends. We had broken the racial barrier and had buckled down to work. We made our work fun! It was so challenging to have an operation run by a young white guy and a young black man in this Southern environment. Some Southerners did not understand but this only fueled our determination to make it work. Long office hours (we literally lived in the office at the Robert E. Lee building), sometimes sleeping on sofas just so we could be there to answer the phone early the next morning. Record sales grew bigger with each new record and we were showing a profit for the first time.
We only let Otis play Macon once a year for his annual homecoming show. This event became so big I enlisted my father, C.B. Walden, my mother, Carolyn Walden, and my two cousins, Robert and Roy Walden, and my brother and his wife, Clark and Dolores Walden, to help make the shows run successful. Otis had his own team to help as well with Rogers Redding, Carolyn Spikes, Earl Simms (Speedo), and Sylvester Huckabee(Huck).
Things began to prosper even greater each year and with the release of each new record. Joe Galkin was with us all the way and an Italian agent from a New York agency by the name of Frank Sands joined us in our own little crusade from Macon, Georgia. Johnny Jenkins did not like to fly and there was a split between the band and Otis. During this time Otis traveled solo and rehearsed with local bands early in the afternoons, in each of the cities where he performed. Deep down he always wanted that steady same backup band. He met this great band from Newport News, Virginia that had a great horn section, full rhythm section, and a male singer, Roy Hines, and a female singer named Gloria Stevenson. Thus, the Otis Redding Show and Revue was born. Their first transportation was a 1949 Flexie tour bus not in very stable shape... but Otis made it keep rolling and the show expanded the concerts even further across the country. Otis would play seven days a week, moving from town to town almost every day.
In most cases success changed most singers, but not Otis. He was always ready to do whatever was necessary and willing to match everything you did. He had his own fan club and answered most of the fan mail personally, he spoke with disc jockeys on a daily basis and even helped me set up office policies. One time in the early days when the companys funds ran low he offered to put his own road show money into the company to keep it going. Sometimes when he would be traveling and I would arrive at 6:00 am to open the office I would discover Otis and Speedo already in the office reviewing the receipts and ticket box funds from the night before. He would travel a couple hundred miles extra just to work in the office before leaving for his next concert. Otis and I only had two disagreements during the whole time we worked together. I felt like we were a match made in heaven.
Not all of the days were glory. If you travel long enough you are going to meet certain people who will try to take advantage of you and we certainly had our share of fist fights, shoot outs, and other harassments; like having to go to the back doors, filthy hotels, and bathrooms or no service at all. During these incidents I feared no man, Otis was a street fighter and with Huck along as his bodyguard they both could handle almost any situation.
Business continued to grow and before I realized it I had hired my father to be Otis #1 road manager. Cadillacs and newer buses, better living conditions, and more accurate accountings of all funds. All of us wanted Otis to save as much as he could and still enjoy an entertainers decent life.
Otis and I wanted Phils homecoming to be great so we arranged for the Otis Blue LP recording session. Otis and I already had "Ive Been Loving You Too Long" in the top ten in BILLBOARD magazine and "Respect" was recorded and already in the can. Our gross figures were high and Otis and I had not done a bad job on our own. Otis Blue was his best LP yet and it was Phils welcome home present. Otis could take someone elses song and rearrange it to where it sounded like one of his songs with his very unique style.
With Phil back we launched immediately into expanding new territories. Sam and Dave, Arthur Conley, Percy Sledge, Clarence Carter, Johnnie Taylor, Eddie Floyd, Rufus and Carla Thomas, Joe Tex, Booker T. and The M.G.s. Albert King, Willie Mitchell Orchestra, Joe Simon, The Fiestas, Bobby Marchan, Hank Ballard and The Midnighters, James and Bobby Purify, Oscar Toney, Eddie Kirk, Wilbur Harrison, The Ovations, James Carr, Dave Baby Cortez, Alvin Cash and The Crawlers, The Van Dykes, Albert Collins, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Ty Hunter, Otis Clay, The Precisions, The Kelly Brothers, Lee Dorsy, the Meters, Ruby Andrews, Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs, Kris Kenner, Ernie K. Doe, Roscoe Shelton, Big John Hamilton, Lattimore Brown, The Wallace Brothers, Bobby Womack, Al Green, Tyrone Davis, Etta James, Mabel John, Jimmy Hughes, Z.Z. Hill, Arthur Alexander, O.V. Wright, and Candi Staton soon signed with our organization. At one time we represented forty-five black recording artists.
We expanded into publishing songs and named our company Redwal Music. Next to Motown we were the largest management company in the world. The first sixteen gold records came very fast for us and continued to grow to over fifty. We had conquered the Black market and Otis was voted the #1 soul singer by CASHBOX and RECORD WORLD magazines. In BILLBOARD we were voted #2, second only to the "Godfather of Soul", James Brown. At this time we began to take a good look at the pop (white) market. Tours of Europe and the Monterey Pop Festival and the Filmore auditoriums brought the attention we were looking for. Otis records were now all over both Pop and R&B stations and charts. Otis was breaking big on TV as well.
All of the above happened during the 60s before the Civil Rights Bill. Otis and I decided to move out into the country where we could ride horses, go fishing and hunting, and just do anything we wanted to without people staring at this black man and white man doing things together, laughing and having a good time. Otis and I both loved Round Oak and planned to make it one of the largest ranches and farms in our state, We grew vegetables and hay and raised cows and hogs. We even had fresh eggs from our chickens and occasional glass of goats milk from a pet nanny goat. He built a 3 and a half acre lake at the Big O Ranch for fresh fish and the largest privately owned swimming pool in the state in the shape of a Big O. Plans were drawn and construction was scheduled for an airstrip so he could land his twin engine Beechcraft at the ranch.
Things were going great. All the success had generated wealth for all three of us, a company airplane, El Dorados, Continentals, Thunderbirds, nice homes and we truly seemed on top of the world. Business was booming. Each new recording by Otis sold better than the ones before. National publications were finally giving the proper recognition he deserved. Other entertainers such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Tom Jones, and Bob Dylan had endorsed Otis as their favorite singer. Appearances had been scheduled on the Ed Sullivan Show, American Bandstand, Johnny Carson, Joey Bishop, and Where The Acton Is. He had two movie scripts to act, not to sing.
Otis was not only a singer but a musician, a writer, an arranger, a record producer, a performer, and businessman in publishing and management of new artists; working in all areas of the music business.
His accomplishments and contributions include:
1. One gold single "Dock of the Bay"
2. One gold LP "Monterey Pop Festival"
3. One gold box set "The Best of Otis Redding
4. Two Grammies for "The Dock of the Bay
5. Numerous BMI citations for songs he wrote which were recorded by himself, Aretha Franklin, The Chambers Brothers, Michael Bolton, The Black Crows, Micky Murray, Arthur Conley, O.C. Smith, Tom Jones, The Rolling Stones, and even Frank Sinatra just to name a few.
6. He was inducted into the National Music Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and Memphis Hall of Fame in Memphis.
7. He set up a scholarship to help young students through school.
8. One gold single "Sweet Soul Music" recorded by Arthur Conley, produced by Otis.
9. Resolutions were passed through the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives unanimously praising his accomplishments.
10. Several scripts for a movie of his life story (which should be made in 1999)
11. His song "Dock of the Bay" placed 17 in the all-time history of music.
12. In Europe he dethroned Elvis Presley as the #1 male singer after Elvis held the crown for seven consecutive years, in Melody Maker Magazine.
13. He worked very closely with Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Senator Baker from Tennessee on a stay-in-school project.
14. He had a major bridge crossing the Ocmulgee River in Macon named The Otis Redding Memorial Bridge.
15. One grammy in 1999 for the Lifetime achievement.
Otis always took pride in not missing an engagement. In December of 1967 he was advised not to fly from Cleveland, Ohio to Madison, Wisconsin because of bad weather. He didnt want to disappoint his fans and took off anyway leaving with the words, "Gotta make that dollar." His plane crashed upon approach to the airport and all were killed but Ben Cauley. The plane crashed into a bay. Ben was the only one in the plane that could not swim and also did not have his seat belt on. Had he stayed in the icy water a few minutes longer he would have frozen to death.
Before Otis I had never loved a man outside of my immediate family and relatives. He was the first. On that tragic night, December 10, 1967 I lost not only my best friend and neighbor but a big piece of my heart as well. At his funeral (only the third held at the Macon City Auditorium) I realized I was not alone. Jackie Wilson, Solomon Burke, Joe Tex, James Brown, Sam and Dave, Gene Chandler, Johnnie Taylor, Mabel John, Joe Simon, Clarence Carter, Percy Sledge, Arthur Conley were just a few that filled the auditorium to capacity with over 2000 people standing outside. Not one flower, not one button missing. These people had RESPECT for the man who had been "Loving You Too Long."
Thirty years later Otis last box set was certified gold. A movie will be made in 1999 of his life story. His Big O Ranch grew 155 acres larger and two of his wonderful children have built new homes at the ranch joining his wife, Zelma and brother, Rogers. Each day I think of Otis and all the joy and happiness we had . I hope our industry, our city and state will continue to honor this man who never let it go to his head. Perhaps one day I might walk by the first statue of a black man in Macon and you know who I think it should be.
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