On June 1, 1967 the Beatles released Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and with it began the Summer of Love. Two weeks later, the Love Crowd gathered in a small California town for the first ever multi-day rock event, the Monterey Pop Festival. The festival was planned to reflect rock music (and its various extensions) as a legitimate art form in much the same way as the long running Newport Jazz and Newport Folk Festivals did for those genres. Along those lines the promoters booked acts ranging from blues, rock, folk, psychedelia, soul, and jazz all the way to Ravi Shankar. The festival is remembered for being the first major American appearance by the Who and expatriate Jimi Hendrix. Janis Joplin also made her breakout appearance at Newport with her tearing-down-the-house rendition of Ball and Chain. However in addition to the guitar torching performance by Hendrix, it was another black American musican (remember, this is 1967) that may be the most talked about and fondly remembered performance of the festival: Otis Redding.
During the festivals inception Otis Redding and most of the Stax roster of artists were touring Europe with a Stax rhythm & blues and soul revue. While in Europe the musicians played to mostly white audiences and the reception they received was quite different than what they were used to in the States. In the traditional soul/ R&B revues, artists would perform a give and take with the audience, especially with the ladies, through both the songs and the styles of the artists. The pleading, begging songs were specifically for the women. This interactive style of performance was played upon and the energy was generated by literally working with (and sometimes within) the audience.
The European audiences — well, white audiences in general — were not familiar with many of the traditions of black performers and their performances, and in this case, the traditions of a rhythm & blues revue. As a result, the audiences tended to hold back and observe the performers rather than interact with the artists in much the same manner as they would have observed jazz musicians perform.The Stax artists had to develop a different way of interacting with the audience if they wanted to draw the crowd in.
While on the European tour, Otis Reddings manager, Phil Walden, met with then Rolling Stones’ manager, Andrew Oldham. A few weeks prior Oldham had been part of a meeting that included among others, Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney, Smokey Robinson, Mick Jagger, Roger McGuinn, and John Phillips. It seemed that these men had intended to put on a rock music festival, perhaps the very first ever rock festival. Oldham was aware that Walden and Redding were looking to expand Redding’s audience and suggested playing the festival. Walden called Atlantic Records guru Jerry Wexler to validate any legitimacy of the event. When Wexler responded that he thought the festival was on the up-and-up, Walden began discussions with John Phillips to have Otis Redding close out the Saturday Night lineup.
Taking the festival very seriously, the energy and effort Redding put into planning his performance even had his wife remark how she had never seen him so nervous. Aware of the importance that Monterey held, he knew that this would be a boost to his career. He said, Its gonna put my career up some. Im gonna reach an audience I never have before.
Introduced by comedian Tommy Smothers, the musicians started their set just after one in the morning as rain began to fall. Coming on after a scorching set by the Jefferson Airplane, Redding blasted out onto the stage with a twice tempo performance of Sam Cookes Shake. This performance is noteworthy for many reasons but two in particular: It was unusual to see Redding backed by the band that he used (and every other Stax artist) in the studio. Booker T & the MGs were the house band for Stax Records and as such did not get much time outside the studio. The European tour changed that. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it demonstrated how Redding had effectively adapted his performing style while in Europe. He worked on getting the audience to respond without the tease that would be present with a black audience. This is most easily demonstrated by his call-and-response of the cry Shake! out to the audience demanding they return the holler. He knew from the get-go that he had them. When he got that kind of reaction he was better than great, Walden reflected in a 2002 interview.
Maintaining the momentum, Redding paused only briefly to introduce the next song as one that a girl took away from me.” As he laughed about it, the band began an uptempo Respect, and you realize the girl he was talking about is Aretha Franklin, who a few months earlier released her now epic rendition of Reddings song. In fact, upon her recording, Redding actually conceded the song to her; however, as it was an effective song in his performance, he continued to use it to call out to his audience and stomp around stage full of enthusiasm.
Stomping was what Redding was known for. He didnt dance. He barely moved. His performance at Monterey reflects an altered, perhaps evolved performance from his earlier years on the Revue tours. His performance was as much a reflection of his recent experiences as much as it was a reflection of the audience he was playing for. Redding and his band did not know this audience. Despite playing the Whiskey-A-Go-Go a year earlier in Los Angeles, very few in attendance at Monterey had ever heard of Otis Redding much less actually had heard his music.
Sensing a vibe from the crowd after closing out Respect, Redding sought a common cause between himself, the band and the crowd. In calling out to the audience he hit upon the one expression that seemed to provide the theme for the entire festival.
This is the love crowd right? he asked. Continuing, We all love each other dont we? Am I right? Let me hear you say Yeah.