Ben Cauley

Ben Cauley, born 1947, is a trumpet player, vocalist, and founding member of the Stax recording group, The Bar-Kays. He is also notable as the lone survivor of the 1967 plane crash which claimed the life of soul singer Otis Redding.

The Bar-Kays

The Bar-Kays were formed in the mid-1960s, joined the Stax studio by 1966, and was signed on to Stax's subsidiary Volt Records in the beginning of 1967. Al Jackson, the drummer with Booker T & the MGs, took a particular interest in the young members of the Bar-Kays and groomed them to become the second house band for Stax after Booker T and the MGs. [1] As such they appeared as the backing band on numerous recordings for Stax artists such as Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, and Sam and Dave. In fact, Otis Redding took such a liking to the band that he chose them to be his touring back-up band in the summer of 1967.

Plane crash

On December 8, 1967, Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays flew in Redding's twin engine Beechcraft plane to Nashville, Tennessee for three weekend gigs and used that city as a base to commute to additional gigs. [2] The following day, December 9th, they took the Beechcraft to Cleveland where they appeared on Don Webster's 'Upbeat' TV show with Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. Later that same evening they played at a popular Cleveland club, Leo's Casino. It was on December 10th, on their commute to Madison, Wisconsin, that the men would meet their fate.

At 3:28 in the afternoon, the plane carrying Otis Redding, his valet, and the majority of the Bar-Kays crashed into the icy waters of the Squaw Bay area of Lake Monona, just outside of Madison. Bar-Kays bassist James Alexander had taken a different flight as there was not enough room left on Redding's plane.) [3][4] Cauley, who was sitting directly behind Otis Redding in the co-pilot's seat, had fallen asleep on the flight clutching his seat cushion. He awoke when he realized he could not breathe. He said that he then saw band mate Phalon Jones look out of a window and say "Oh, no."

Cauley then unbuckled his safety belt which ultimately allowed him to separate himself from the wreckage. Other victims, including Redding, were found still attached to their seats)[6] As the impact tore a wing off the small Beechcraft, the fuselage was torn open and Cauley was able to bob to the surface as he clutched his seat cushion.

While bobbing and trying to swim to his band mates who were able to free themselves from the fuselage, Cauley witnessed their cries for help before they were pulled under the frigid water. A nearby resident of Lake Monona heard the crash and called the authorities who responded quickly with a police boat.

Approximately 20 minutes after the crash, Cauley was pulled into the police boat, suffering from hypothermia and shock. According to Jet magazine, which interviewed Cauley and the authorities who assisted in the rescue attempt, the rescue divers could not be in the water for more than 15 minutes at a time due to the freezing temperature of the water. Madison Police Inspector John Harrington was quoted as saying that a person without insulated SCUBA gear "wouldn't live longer than 20 or so minutes" in the icy water. When asked why he survived, Cauley told Jet, "I guess God was with me."


Ben Cauley and James Alexander reformed the Bar-Kays and went on to record with Stax artists such as Isaac Hayes, Rufus Thomas, and The Staple Singers, as well as appear at Wattstax, "The Black Woodstock". They continued to record and have hits into the 1980s. Today, Ben Cauley can be heard backing up Liz Lottmann [7], jazz and blues singer, or performing live at the Memphis club, Rum Boogie, located downtown on Beale Street. He also directs the choir of Calvary Longview United Methodist Church, where both he and his wife, Shirley, attend.

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