December 9, 1967 was a busy day for Otis Redding. The first stop on his winter tour was Cleveland, Ohio, where he was scheduled to appear on the locally produced, nationally syndicated (in 98 markets around the country) television show Upbeat, as well as perform two concerts at legendary nightclub Leo’s Casino. The singer was eager to get back on the road after a three-month break recovering from surgery for throat polyps. He had just recorded what was to become the biggest and most enduring hit of his career, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” Redding started that Saturday at the WEWS studios at 30th and Euclid Avenue for Upbeat rehearsals. Upbeat host Don Webster recalled on the website clevelandseniors.com that typically the show would be rehearsed from about 9 am until noon, working on the technical aspects like blocking and lighting. After that, the production team and talent would break for lunch and come back at 1 pm to do the taping. It would take two to three hours to tape the one-hour show. That show was broadcast at 5 pm, the same day of the taping. Webster never did a lot of pre-interviewing, feeling that he got a better result just talking, making it come across more natural and spontaneous. Otis Redding and his band performed Redding’s composition “Respect,” followed by Webster's conversational interview with the performer. Redding closed the show along with Detroit soul shouter Mitch Ryder, performing “Knock On Wood” (see video below).
After finishing the taping, Redding and his band probably returned to their hotel to rest, grab a bite to eat, perhaps they even got the chance to see the Upbeat show they had just recorded before heading back up Euclid Avenue for their evening gig. Leo’s Casino was the premier venue in Cleveland’s African-American community. In 1952, Leo Frank opened his first club in the heart of Cleveland’s oldest black neighborhood. The bar expanded to include a venue for such touring national jazz acts as Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie and Cannonball Adderley. The building burned in 1962. Frank moved operations uptown to 75th and Euclid, closer to Cleveland’s University Circle cultural center, and opened the new Leo’s Casino in 1963. Between 1963 and 1972, the biggest African-American stars of the day performed at Leo's, including Jackie Wilson, Ray Charles, and Ike and Tina Turner. Leo’s was “home away from home” for Motown acts. The Miracles, the Temptations, the Supremes and the Four Tops made regular appearances as the record label “test ran” the newest hits to see how they went over before the discerning and demanding Leo’s crowd. The club also presented comedians such as Richard Pryor, Flip Wilson and Redd Foxx. Comedian Dick Gregory called Leo’s "the most fully integrated nightclub in America." The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame designated Leo’s Casino a historic rock and roll landmark on June 24, 1999. (pictured: Otis Redding and Mitch Ryder performing on Upbeat / Photograph courtesy of George Shuba)
Leo’s longtime emcee, Freddie Arrington, probably introduced Redding with his signature intro, “Are you ready for Star Time?!” Redding usually began his sets by launching into “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” with a sound that was, in one reviewer’s words, “as tight as a well-oiled machine.” Other highlights of the set were “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” and a great cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.” Leo’s was an intimate club, seating about 700. The tables were so close to the stage you could see – and feel – the band sweat. Redding and his band always worked up a healthy sweat during performances, and those two shows at Leo’s were no different – except that they were the last shows Otis Redding would ever play.
On December 10, 1967, Redding, his manager, four members of his band and his pilot were killed as their small plane crashed into Lake Monona near Madison, Wisconsin. Wreckage from the plane and more are part of the Rock Hall's collection celebrating the career of Redding and other soul luminaries. The next tour stop was at the Factory Night Club in Madison – sadly, the tour had both begun and ended the night before in Cleveland.