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Ben Cauley 1947 – 2015


Ben Cauley, the trumpet player for the Bar-Kays and the sole survivor of the tragic 1967 Otis Redding plane crash, has passed at the age of 67.

Several years ago, Industrial Light and Magic asked me to be the designer of their first foray into themed entertainment design. This job took me to Memphis, Tennessee. I won’t go into the whole project here, just that it involved a celebration of four kinds of music that emanated from Memphis. Our guide to the soul music aspect of this project was David Porter, half of the famous Porter-Hayes (the “Hayes” being Isaac) songwriting team, responsible for hits like “Soul Man” and “Hold On, I’m Comin'”.

He took my team out to a Beale Street music club for some live Memphis soul music.

It wasn’t long before I became uncomfortable. Something didn’t feel right. I looked around the room. There were no African Americans in the club.

I leaned over to Dave and asked if we could go to a black club. He lit up.

“Oh — you want the Real Thing!”

“Indeed I do.”

Dave made some quick calls, then we jumped into a cab and drove to the heart of black Memphis. The club owner seemed very surprised to see a couple of white guys strolling into his venue but Dave assured him we were OK and there for the music.

Dave had called in some favors. We got to see two incredible performances that night. One was by the powerful Ruby Johnson, whose version of Sam Cooke‘s “A Change Is Gonna Come” brought me to tears.

The other was by Ben Cauley, who sang and played up a storm that night, covering all the Bar-Kays hits and more. Although it had been many years since the fateful crash that took Otis and most of the band, when we talked about it Ben still seemed extremely haunted by the event. He easily teared up at the memory of the horrors he witnessed, the pain all over his face.

I will never forget the fine, kind and deeply human soul that was Mister Ben Cauley.

Rest in Peace, dear good man.

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