Musings On Music History: Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay, Waiting For The Change That’s Gonna Come, Gettin’ Cat Scratch Fever

12.10: Otis Redding, one of the greatest soul singers ever, died on this day in 1967, when his plane crashed into a lake in Wisconsin. It’s so hard to imagine that he was only 26. 26! Wow, that just blows our mind, as Otis’ voice and lyrics exuded those of an elder statesman, those of a wise, old soul. For real, pick up Otis Blue or The Dock Of The Bay, sit back, and just listen. That isn’t just a man singing. That is a soul singing. That is a voice you will not hear again, ever. One-of-a-kind, Otis carried the mantle passed on by the immortal Sam Cooke. The singer’s singer, Otis recorded what would become his one and only #1 hit, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay,” just three days before his death. We love this song. We whistle this song in the shower. Otis is the man. Sing on, Otis, sing on.

12.11: Why do the good one’s die so young? Sam Cooke, soul music pioneer and writer of one of the greatest protest songs to emerge from the restless ’60s, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” died under very mysterious circumstances at a hotel in L.A. on this day in 1964, at the age of 33. Shot by the hotel’s manager, an older woman who claimed self-defense, Cooke’s presence in her office has been disputed since that time. The manager claimed Cooke burst into the office, inebriated and shouting, wearing only an overcoat and shoes, demanding to know the whereabouts of the woman with whom he came to the hotel. That woman claims she’d been held hostage by a drunken and drugged-up Cooke, and that she escaped with her clothes, accidentally grabbing his, as well. However, that this woman was later arrested for prostitution suggests that she found herself in that hotel room of her own volition, perhaps, as some suggest, intending to rob Cooke. Some in his family and friends, however, claim a conspiracy in his death, that injuries observed at the funeral home were not consistent with gunfire. This weird and tragic end to Cooke’s life does nothing, though, to diminish his impact upon the burgeoning soul sound. That he did not live to see its true fruition is a tragedy unto itself, but we love Sam for planting those seeds. [more]

12.12: Jerry Lee Lewis, mad man on the flaming piano, married his 13-year old cousin (?!) on this day in 1957. Effectively beginning his downfall from popularity, but never to be counted out, the marriage and its subsequent uproar led to Lewis’ blacklisting from radio and television. We’ll never question Jerry’s motivations simply because there is no use in trying. The man did, and continues to do whatever the hell he wants. That’s one of the things that make him a rock ‘n’ roll icon, one of the best rock performers ever to take a stage.

12.13: On this day in 1949, rock got one of its more “beloved” musicians and the NRA got an outspoken member when Ted Nugent was born. Some people love to hate The Nuge, choosing to focus on his political stances, but know he’s a rock ‘n’ roller like no other. Going against the grain is nothing new for Ted, as he’s remained steadfastly anti-drug and booze throughout his life (unlike most every other rocker ever), instead putting his energies into, ahem, other pursuits (ie., women, money, guns, and guitars). Probably best known for his ’70s arena anthems “Cat Scratch Fever” and “Stranglehold”, Ted still rocks out to this day, doing what he does best, prowling the stage like the Motor City Madman he is, was, and shall forever be.

12.15: Rod Stewart joined a long, and continuing, line of rocker-model marriages when he married the Kiwi beauty Rachel Hunter on this day in 1990. Twenty-four years her senior, this was Stewart’s second of three, so far, marriages. Stewart and Hunter had two children, adding to Stewart’s grand total of seven chitlins. The guy loves kids, we guess, his most recent being born in 2005, Stewart’s 60th year upon this planet. Hunter and Stewart separated in 1999, lasting many more years than most rocker-model couplings and renewed our faith in the celebrity dating/marriage system of “use ’em and lose ’em.”

12.15: You kids today (actually, most of you out there today) may not know about jazz, but at one time it ruled American music. During the swing era of jazz, roughly from 1935 to 1945, big bands dominated the scene, churning out hit after hit, getting this country through the waning years of the Great Depression and the whole of World War II, getting people off their feet and cuttin’ footloose. One of the biggest big band leaders was a man by the name of Glenn Miller. The Glenn Miller Orchestra led the pack in terms of notoriety and sales. Take the Rolling Stones and The Beatles, roll them up and wad them together, and you get a hint of how popular Miller and his band were during their heyday. Differing from the improvisational elements of jazz and extolling complex arrangements, big bands packed in the crowds, eager to let off steam and move their feet. With the U.S. entrance into WWII, Miller enlisted, wanting to serve his country and help in the only way he could, as he was told old, at 38, to be drafted. Miller performed in many different military bands before getting the reins of his own, the 50-piece Army Air Force Band, entertaining more than a million troops during the war. It was on this day in 1944 that Miller’s plane, en route to Paris to entertain the troops who’d just liberated the city, disappeared. Presumed to have crashed into the English Channel, the plane and Miller’s body were never found. His music, however, would never die and his service to his country, like all during WWII, lives on in our daily freedoms.

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