Another short-lived business opportunity

July 27, 2011

Otis Redding died at the age of 26 together with his manager and four members of his band “The Bar-Keys”, when their private airplane plunged into Lake Monona in Wisconsin.

Otis had made some demo takes of a new composition three days before together with his friend, the guitarist Steve Cropper. The recordings were meant as a first try to get an idea of how to develop the song further and how to arrange it.

When Steve Cropper heard about Otis death, he rushed into the studio, copied the best parts of the takes together, laid down a guitar track and called other available musicians of the Stax team to complete the recording. The song “The Dock Of The Bay” was released three week later and became an instant number-one on the Billboard Charts.

It was the biggest success that Otis ever had. “The Dock Of The Bay” is a wonderful and moving song, a perfect follow up to his brilliant record: “Try A Little Tenderness”, made one year earlier. Though most of Otis Redding’s recordings are worth listening alone for his emotional and sensitive interpretation, this two titles are true milestones in pop music history and qualify him rightfully as one of the greatest soul singers ever.

It is sad that Redding died so soon, he would have for sure composed, performed and recorded many more wonderful tunes. He would also have for sure made a lot more money for Stax – Atlantic – Warner Brothers.

From a commercial point of view Redding was only a short-lived business opportunity.

I’m an admirer of African American Music. I love Jazz, Blues, Gospel, R&B, Soul. Especially Soul – I could call myself a Soul music aficionado. I even founded a Soul music cover band, which had, I have to admit, only limited success and seized to exist in 2002.

Many things have seized to exist during my life. Many familiar names are not mentioned any more. Most of my male musical heroes are dead now.

Donny Hathaway died 33 years old when he jumped out of the window of a New York skyscraper, his album “Extension Of A Man” is one of my all-time favorites.

Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his father in an argument one day before his 45th birthday. His album “What’s Going On” is arguably one of the greatest record albums in pop history and also one of my favorites.

Curtis Mayfield died with 58, he spent the last 10 years of his life paralyzed from the neck down after a stage accident.

Gil Scott-Heron died just recently with 62. Gil had a troubled life, bereaved and afflicted by drug abuse and AIDS. He was a sensitive, tender, and caring person and this callous and merciless world was too much for him. I wrote about Gil Scott-Heron and honored him in my blog post https://mato48.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/back-again/, which also includes most of his lyrics.

Roebuck (Pops) Staples reached 86 years. Nobody can say that he died before his time and he had a wonderful life, creating one of the most influential soul groups of all time, “The Staple Singers”. The term “creating” fits here in every aspect, because the group consisted of him and his three daughters. He is a good example that gifted musicians must not necessarily be tormented characters with an unhappy life that ends sadly.

My favorite female vocalists are doing significantly better than the men. Roberta Flack is still alive and hopefully well, Aretha Franklin, Patti Austin, Cassandra Wilson, Sharon Jones are also reportedly still okay.

Tony Braxton unfortunately is suffering from severe health problems and she also was exploited and cheated by her longtime manager, but her music is great! Mary J. Blige is also still going strong. I don’t like her perfumes and sunglasses though (I don’t appreciate perfumes and sunglasses at all.)

Amy Winehouse was not one of my favorite artists and not my idol or shining star, but I liked her music (I also enjoy the music of Ray Charles, who is not in any sense a role model for me or someone to aspire to.)

Amy Winehouse, found dead just a few days ago, was another short-lived business opportunity. She only became 27 years old. I heard, that iTunes sales of her music are skyrocketing and album sales surge, though in this fast-moving time she probably will be forgotten soon.

I never bought any of her recordings. I stopped buying music 6 years ago when I realized, that first: the age of the CD has ended, second: the more than 4000 CDs that I have collected are enough to keep me entertained till the end of my life.

Nowadays I spend hardly any time listening to music, I prefer peace and quiet.

My pupils often bring me new CDs or let me hear recent hits on their iPods or iPhones or iPads. I have then to figure out the chord progressions and the formal structure of the songs, which is quickly done because the pieces are in general not overly sophisticated. I would not be able to analyze a fugue of J.S. Bach, but chart hits are easy — and boring. It happens so that my pupils, when they keep me updated about the newest pop music trends, which they regard as the greatest thing that happened to music culture since one of our early ancestors blew into a hollow bone for the first time, are sometimes disappointed about my lack of enthusiasm.

I like the voice of Alice Russel, who is also a white british soul singer. Never heard anything from Adele.

Amy Winehouse was a heroin and alcohol addict. I have difficulties to comprehend addictive behavior because I lack the genetic disposition (PKNOX2 or whatever) and I can abandon a life long habit from one day to the other if I decide to. But I have an addiction prone person in my family. The addictions are not severe and of the usual type (shopping, TV, sweats and sugar cakes, FarmVille), but they are really, really hard to break!

Amy Winehouse would have needed much love and understanding and strong social support to overcome her addictions. She was married to Blake Fielder-Civil, also a drug addict, and divorced in August 2009. My first impulse, when I hear such kind of stories, is to blame the violent and abusive man for all the bad things, that are going on. In this case though, there are many suggestions, that Amy Winehouse was as abusive to him as he was to her. I don’t know — and anyway, who am I to judge about her private situation? I was not there.

The paparazzis were there, circling around her like vultures to pray on a not yet decaying corpse. Her manager, her fellow musicians were there. Here parents tried to reach out to her and to influence her … and didn’t succeed. The social workers, the psychologists and the counselors in the rehabilitation facilities were there. She had various lovers who could have helped her.

Again, who am I to make a judgement? Maybe the people around her were as troubled as she was and had enough to do with themselves? Maybe they tried hard and failed, because she was so completely deranged or her mental sickness was to severe that no treatment was possible. Many people loose their way and nobody can help then, it happens all the time.

Two decades ago a colleague of mine got severely depressed after his relationship broke up and he subsequently became manic depressive. He went in and out of the psychiatric clinic several times, in the end he hanged himself. He was 26 years old. Right now another colleague is on sick leave for two month already because of severe depressions and nobody knows if she ever will be able to work again. In May I got word that a guitar teacher in another music school had killed himself with 43 years. That news hit home because I knew this man well and also once performed with him.

At this point of the text it is time to take a deep breath and think it over: Why am I writing this? Are there any conclusions to be made? Can I learn anything from Amy’s tragic demise? Can I write down any meaningful statements, suggestions, advices? Can I go on from here and write anything useful, anything that is not pure banality?


I am in no position to change the organization and the priorities of this society, I’m also in no position to change the policies to combat drug abuse and the production and distribution of drugs. If I would be able, I would implement new policies and try new ideas — maybe I would fail in the same way that the current policies are failing.

If I would be able, I would also change many other practices that are threatening our sanity. There are many things that distract, irritate, disturb, upset us, there are many things that can make us mad.

This hectic life with all the machines around us constantly humming, clicking, ticking, peeping, is for sure not helpful. Sitting in front of the TV and consuming the daily brainwashing from the corporate media propaganda department is not helpful. Sitting in front of the computer screen and being drowned by a deluge of conflicting, useless or misleading information is not helpful. Constant background music, traffic noise, industrial noise, doors banging, people chatting on their cellphones, all that is not helpful.

A mindset, a value system that is based on material possessions is not helpful.

I’m deadly sure that city life would drive me insane, that city life would break me! Accidentally (and fortunately) I am able to avoid the noise and dirt and the pollution of a city and also most of the distractions and the hectic of our modern life. Though I’m in no position to change the way of the world, at least I can use my privileged status to change what I am able to change: myself. This implies, that I have to watch and learn, meditate, develop my personality, overcome my choleric temper and my arrogance and aloofness, discover my inner strength, grow my ability to accept and tolerate, to feel empathy, to feel love…. Wow! This is evidently quite an agenda — there will be a lot to do in the remaining years of my life!


I played with various Jazz combos and also with dance bands. The gigs with the Jazz ensembles were not so bad, except for the cigarette smoke pollution. I could get really crazy when I saw this morons in the audience light up one cigarette after another and I had even to play for them and entertain them when I rather wanted to smash a chair on their heads!

The gigs with the dance bands were worse because we had not only to play for drunken idiots but also to prevent them from climbing onto the stage and falling over the equipment and ruining things. And these cretins never knew when to stop drinking and go home, so we had to play till the early morning. I often played till four AM and then had to help disassemble and pack the PA and all the other stage equipment, an exhausting job that took another hour. And after that I had to drive home hundred or two hundred kilometers, half asleep behind the steering wheel and hardly able to keep the car on the road.

I don’t do that anymore, I would never do that again! And I can perfectly understand it, when a performing artist is getting mentally sick. I admire the musicians who are robust enough not to get mad under these conditions!


Goodbye, Amy. You don’t suffer anymore! I promise to you that I do prepare myself for the moment when some troubled soul like you crosses my way. I’m watching, breathing, learning. I let my love grow. I am at ease.

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