Promoter of Otis Redding’s fatal concert recalls crash
"We were told they were busing in from Cleveland. That's why when I got the first phone call from the police, I didn't believe it."

Thirty years ago and barely in his 20s, Ken Adamany owned the Factory, a downtown Madison live music club.

Adamany, despite his young age, was already an experienced local concert promoter. But when he completed negotiations with Otis Redding’s agent to have the soul singer perform in Madison, that was a coup.

“I was so honored,” Adamany remembered.

Of course, the show never occurred.

On a dreary December Sunday afternoon in 1967, Redding’s plane crashed into Lake Monona, killing Redding, age 26; six musicians; and a pilot. Miraculously, the band’s trumpeter survived.

At noon Friday, Redding fans, friends and family will gather at Monona Terrace’s rooftop to rededicate a memorial for the legendary singer. It’s on the Evjue Gardens’ east side and features three marble benches surrounding a bronze plaque that begins:

“The King of Soul Singers . . .”

Adamany will be one of the speakers at Friday’s public ceremony and, recently, he recalled his experiences the day of the crash.

He said it was very unusual for a club act to fly to a gig.

“And we were told they were busing in from Cleveland,” Adamany said. “That’s why when I got the first phone call from the police, I didn’t believe it.

“One of the detectives called me and asked, `Are you expecting an orchestra flying in?’ I didn’t know what he was talking about for two reasons: One, it wasn’t an orchestra; and, two, they were coming in by bus.

“They were late, but it was a very, very overcast day, and I figured they were having trouble finding the building.”

By early evening, a police officer called Adamany and described some of the victims. That’s when Adamany knew it was Redding and his band.

A long line already formed outside the Factory, located on Gorham Street at the current location of Canterbury Booksellers. The first of two shows was scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

None of the fans knew the tragic news. Adamany had an employee use a bullhorn to tell concertgoers from an open window.

“No one believed it, of course,” Adamany said. “It was in the era of students not trusting business people.”

As more fans gathered at the Factory, and radio reports about Redding’s crash spread, police asked Adamany to have a show. He presented a free concert with Milwaukee band Lee Brown & the Cheaters and other bands.

(In a 2003 interview with the Wisconsin State Journal, Cheap Trick guitarist Rick  Nielsen said he was a member of one of the acts that performed. “The news spread slowly,” Nielsen said. “People were walking around in a daze. Instead of locked doors, we played.”)

For days afterward, the Factory was deluged with calls from around the world.

And in a twisted development a week or so later, students started copying tickets and using numerous fake ones for the $3 ticket refund.

“We refunded way more than we sold and we sold about 700 or 800 tickets,” said Adamany. “The people who worked for me didn’t notice what was happening.”

Also, the West Coast agent who booked Redding into Madison was so rattled by the accident that it took him several years before he let one of his acts even play in Wisconsin again.

Adamany continued to operate the Factory. In 1968, Jimi Hendrix played the venue. Redding’s “Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay” soared to No. 1 posthumously.

Later in his career, Adamany managed Cheap Trick from its infancy to international stardom. Now, he runs Last Coast, an active Madison-based concert promoter.

“In (1967), booking was not as organized as it is now,” Adamany said. “We hardly ever heard from road managers. I remember waiting for Wilson Pickett until about five minutes before he hit the stage. No one knew anything about where he was.

“Now, you’re in touch with an act five times a day. If you bring a show into Madison, we’re on the phone constantly with a PR person, the road manager and sometimes the management office and the agent.”

Asked to summarize Redding’s talents, Adamany read a recent quote from James “Curly” Cooke, a former Madison resident who played in the Steve Miller Band. Cooke saw Redding perform at the Monterey Pop Festival.

Cooke said: “I was at the right of the stage for Otis Redding. It was phenomenal. I have never to this day seen anybody with so much power and raw energy. I’ve never seen anybody like that. It was one of the absolute highlights of my life.”

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