Thursday, January 19, 2012

Johnny Otis RIP

Johnny Otis - one of the true giants of rock and roll and often called the Godfather of Rhythm and Blues - has died aged 90. The son of Greek immigrants, he grew up in a black neighbourhood in Berkeley, California. He formed his own band in 1945 and had a hit with Harlem Nocturne and played with Wynonie Harris and Charles Brown, among others. He opened his own R and B club - The Barrelhouse in LA. One of his many discoveries was Little Esther Phillips, then a teenager, who sang with the band and produced a string of hits for the Otis band. He also worked with the Robins, who went on to become the Coasters, and discovered sax man Big Jay McNeely. Next came Etta James, for whom he produced Roll With Me Henry, and Big Mama Thornton, for whom he produced Hound Dog, The list of his discoveries goes on and on - Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard, Little Willie John, Sugar Pie DeSanto, among others.

In the UK he is best known for the smash hit Ma (He's Making Eyes At Me) featuring Marie Adams and the Three Tons of Joy, and a string of great rock and roll singles including Bye Bye Baby, Willie and the Hand Jive, Crazy Country Hop, Castin' My Spell, Telephone Baby and Mumbling Mosie. Other compositions include Every Beat of My Heart, a hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips. In 1969 he recorded an album of sexually explicit material under the name Snatch and the Poontangs and performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival with Little Esther and Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson. He continued to perform on and off until 2000. He once said: 'As a kid I decided that if our society dictated that one had to be black or white, I would be black.' Here are a couple of his classics:
Here are Johnny's obituaries in the Guardian and Independent.


At 10:57 am , Blogger Dave C said...

Last Thursday's Suzi Quatro's Radio 2 programme was dedicated to Johnny Otis and was well worth a listen, although constrained by the thirty minute length. It can still be heard until about 9.00 pm tonight here:


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