While the official memorial marking the anniversary of Otis Redding's death was held at Monona Terrace last Monday, it was forty years ago today that the musician and six others perished just outside Madison. Redding and his band The Bar-Kays were scheduled to play a concert in downtown Madison on a cold and foggy Sunday evening -- December 10, 1967 -- but their twin engine Beechcraft crashed into the waters of Lake Monona, killing all occupants except for trumpeter Ben Cauley. One of the most tangible relics today of this tragedy is the gig poster created for concert.
The show that was to feature Otis Redding and The Bar-Kays was held at The Factory, a long-gone music venue that famously hosted concerts by Jimi Hendrix, Wilson Pickett, The Steve Miller Band, and Cheap Trick, who were originally known by another name. It was located just off the intersection of State and Gorham streets, in a brick building once used as a car garage and most recently the home of the Canterbury bookstore and now Avol's Books.
This location, the performers, the price ($3 at Discount Records, $3.50 at the door), and the two show times (6:30 and 9 p.m.) were featured on the poster, now one of the more sought-after pieces of classic rock 'n' roll memorabilia.
"I'm the fellow that made the Otis Redding poster 40 years ago," says William Barr, a Madison resident who was a sophomore at the UW-Madison back at the end of 1967. The long-time Madison concert planner Ken Adamany of Last Coast productions asked Barr to create the ad for the gig, paying him $50 for the creation, a hand-lettered and -drawn image that was subsequently printed on about 100 posters. "What can I say, the rest is history," says Barr.
"I was 20 years-old," says Barr, who notes that his poster-making experience prior to that point largely consisted of creating posters for a popular local group called the White Trash Blues Band, which was led by a couple of UW film buffs, John Davis and Tom Flinn. "I had done a few posters for White Trash, and they came to the attention of Ken Adamany," explains Barr. "I just came along for the ride, and ended up making a few posters for him and helping paint walls at the old Factory. It was just a big barn of the building in those days, a dance place."
Barr created the image in late October of 1967, starting with the lettering and ending with the drawing. Along with announcing the Redding and The Bar-Kays as headliners, the poster also noted the opening group. That would be The Grim Reapers, a four-piece rock group from Rockford that was a precursor to the band that would gain fame a decade later: Cheap Trick.
The illustration featured a woman surrounded by what many people read as a sea of foliage. Barr notes that the drawing was based upon Redding's song "Try a Little Tenderness," which he recorded in 1966 and his best-known song before his posthumous hit "(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay." "Girls I knew would just swoon when they heard that song," Barr says. "When I did the drawing, I had to have a theme, so I chose 'Tenderness.'"
In an interview many years later, he notes, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick suggested that the illustration looked like a coffin with vines running through it, another macabre interpretation that flows from the rock band's original name. "It's just a collection of visual concepts," says Barr, "a female figure gazing upon the heart of her beloved, the wounded heart. I didn't realize how Catholic the imagery was when I chose it. It was meant to be an allegory of tenderness, that's all."
The poster was very popular around campus and State Street almost immediately, Barr notes. "People were taking them down from where they were posted. They came to Ken asking for more copies, and he ended up making an extra batch. There were 50 posters made on yellow paper, and another 50 made on blue paper."
The poster has continued to be popular, original copies of which have sold for thousands of dollars in recent years. One poster sold for almost $7,500 in July 2006 in a rock 'n' roll memorabilia online auction. (In September 2006, meanwhile, a pair of unused comp tickets for the show was sold on eBay for $1,800.) It has since been reprinted, once in the '80s and again in the '90s to help pay for the Redding memorial on top of Monona Terrace. (There is in fact one of these replicas for sale right now on eBay.)
Barr notes that he has one of the original copies, as does Adamany. Another local owner of the poster is Jack Garver, the owner of the Fanny Garver Gallery on State Street.
Garver placed his copy of the rare poster in the gallery's storefront window last week to mark the anniversary of Redding's death. It can easily be seen by pedestrians passing by the shop, located on the 200 block of State Street across the street from the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
"I got the poster at the show when I was 16 years-old," says Garver. "They didn't tell you right way what had happened. As I recall, the opening act played for awhile before they finally announced that there had been a plane crash." He kept the poster on his wall for many years there after before losing track of it for about 25 years. He found it again, though.
"I'm not planning on selling it," says Garver. "I just brought it into the store because I thought people would find it interesting. I'll probably pull it out of the window on Tuesday, but I'll leave it in the gallery through Christmas, so if anybody wants to come and take a look at it, they're more than welcome."
The poster's creator was at the show too. "We ended up at The Factory at six in the evening, it was a dark and foggy night," Barr says. "Cheap Trick was playing, and after awhile Ken came out and made the announcement that Otis Redding had crashed into Lake Monona. Everyone was pretty much stunned, but there wasn't much we could do.'
Barr says he left the poster business shortly thereafter. "I didn't make many posters, really, and afterwards I drifted away," he says. "Some of my posters were not very good at all. This particular poster was really good, though, it was exceptional. That was my best poster."
Only three weeks after the crash and a couple of months after the Dow Riot on the UW campus, the calendar passed into the seminal year marked in rapid succession by the Prague Spring, the Tet Offensive and My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the subsequent riots, French May, the assassination of RFK, the 1968 U.S. presidential conventions and election, and a swelter of other notable moments that marked an era. "The crash was soon overshadowed by the events of 1968," says Barr. "In a peculiar way, though, that poster became a tangible symbol of the events of December 10, 1967."
Now a bus driver after working in computer software, Barr keeps his framed copy of the poster in a closet at home. "To me, it's knd of a Memento mori, something that ends up commemorating a very sad event. We were all boys in those days," he says, noting himself and Adamany, along with the crash's victims: Redding, his manager, and Bar-Kays Jimmy King, Ronnie Caldwell, Phalon Jones, and Carl Cunningham.
"We got on with our lives," concludes Barr, "and the tragedy is they didn't get a chance to grow old with the rest of us."