As soul fans prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of one of the genre’s crowning masterpieces, a campaign to identify and uncover the album’s beatific cover star is underway, with the hope of finally solving a mystery that’s endured for almost half a century.
Otis Redding was 24-years-old in 1965 when he released ‘Otis Blue’, the record considered the definitive statement from the emotive powerhouse. Two years later he would be dead – flying from one gig to the next, his plane crashed into Lake Monona, Wisconsin, one cold December night in 1967. His short but dazzling career was encapsulated in only six albums during his lifetime, but Redding’s legacy as the king of soul is undisputed, and the music he left behind remains as affecting now as it was then.
At his most poignant when mining the depths of his personal pains in slow burning ballads, Otis was also capable of raising the roof with full-tilt raw soul. ‘Otis Blue’ demonstrated perfectly the twin-powered capabilities of the mad man from Macon, as the heartstring-pulling original ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ sat seamlessly alongside fervent interpretations of Sam Cooke’s ‘Shake’, and The Rolling Stones’ ‘Satisfaction’. Perhaps the record’s finest moment is Redding’s timeless plea for appreciation, ‘Respect’, which took on a new life in 1967 when Aretha Franklin adopted it as a feminist anthem.
Redding’s talent is clearly indisputable - the question that has always been asked of ‘Otis Blue’, however, is: who is that woman on the cover?
His third album, ‘Otis Blue’ was the first of Redding’s to not feature his own face on the cover. Instead, a blue-tinted portrait of a serene-looking blonde female illustrates the album’s passionate core. The use of stock photography was commonplace in the ’60s, and it seems this image – shot by photographer Peter Sahula – was chosen for its appropriate aesthetics. Because it wasn’t commissioned especially for the album, records of the shoot do not exist, and even Sahula has no recollection of the session, nor the name of the blonde in question.
It has long been thought that the model was Nico, the German-born model who would eventually be taken under the wing of Andy Warhol, leading to her fronting The Velvet Underground on their debut album. Nico never confirmed nor denied the possibility of her association with ‘Otis Blue’, and took the answer to her grave in 1988, when she died of a cerebral haemorrhage in Ibiza.
The other contender being touted as Miss ‘Otis Blue’ is, coincidentally, another German. There is little known (that Clash can surmise) about Dagmar Dreger, other than a reference in Time Magazine from 1964 that claims the Rhinelander was “among Manhattan’s highest-paid models.”
There appears to be no personal trace of Dreger online and there are little clues to suggest what her fate since the ’60s has been. This is a situation that The Otis Redding Estate hope to rectify, and thereby finally determine the name behind the face.
The Estate is promoting the hashtag #FindDagmar to encourage the online community to join in the search for the elusive model, and are already following leads from supportive sources.
Can you help unravel this enigma? Do you know Dagmar, or what happened to her? Could we finally answer the question that has evaded experts for so long? If you’ve any information, you can contact the Estate through the official Otis Redding page on Facebook, or by emailing [email protected]. You can also spread the word by promoting the #FindDagmar hashtag on your socials.
Keep your eyes on ClashMusic.com for news on progress and any success, as well as a special celebration of Otis Redding around the anniversary in September.
Words: Simon Harper