Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Godfather of Rhythm n Blues

Johnny Otis (full name John Alexander Veliotis), son of first generation Greek immigrants, born 1921 in Vallejo, California is considered to be one of the most influential personas in the history of popular music.
The Godfather of Rhythm n Blues, as he is often addressed, was (and still is) a musician, band leader, producer, disc jockey, painter, club owner, pastor, journalist and more. Esther Phillips, Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard and Etta James were among his discoveries.

In 1994 he was inducted in Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. Johnny was active in music until 2000 when he headlined the San Francisco Blues Festival. He also hosted a very popular radio show, the Johnny Otis Show, until 2006.

His interest in music began in 1939 after seeing Count Basie performing in San Francisco. Otis made his professional debut in 1939 and settled in LA a few years later where he formed the Otis-Love Band with Preston Love. In 1946, with Harlem Nocture, he scores his first hit. It was the era of the big band decline and Otis is forming a band with twin sax, trumpet and trombone while he switches from drums to vibes. His live shows are the extraordinary and because of his dark skin most of the audiences believe his is black.

Harlem Nocturne

He performs, produces and releases albums until mid 60s when he gets into politics. It is Frank Zappa (another one with Greek origins) who persuades him to get back to the studio. The result was the great R&B soul album of 1968, “Cold Shot” to be followed with the legendary “Snatch & the Poontangs” (because of its dirty language) next year.

Country Girl from album Cold Shot

Mo-Jo Woman from Cuttin' Up album of 1970

Johnny’s 15-year old son, Shuggie Otis is actually starting his career with Cold Shot where he plays the guitar. Shuggie, like his father is multi-instrumentalist who became very famous during 70s for his guitar skills: B B King said he was his “favorite new guitarist”, he played (bass) in Frank Zappa’s Hot Rats (Peaches en Regalia), while in 1974 he refused an invitation from the Rolling Stones to tour with them.
Shuggie Otis released “Here Comes Shuggie Otis” album in 1970, “Freedom Light” in 1971 and “Inspiration Information” in 1974, the latter to be re-issued by David Byrne’s Luaka Bop in 2001. Shuggie is to release a new album within 2011.

Sweet Thang from Freedom Light album

Johnny Otis World:

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