The great R&B music maven has passed on. Johnny Otis was a colossal influence on American music from the 40’s till now. He discovered many great talents and influenced, inspired many others. Like James The Godfather Of Soul” Brown who got his seminal funk guitar player, Jimmy Nolan, from Johnny’s band. Frank Zappa recalled going to Johnny’s Rock n’Roll shows at El Monte’s Legion Stadium. I always thought Zappa’s signature mustache was a nod to Johnny’s facial fuzz.
Johnny with Don and Dewey, that’s Don SugarCane Harris on the left
When FZ was makingPeaches in Regalia he asked Johnny to get him Sugar Cane Harris to play on the album. Johnny did, although FZ had to pay SugarCane’s bail, and Johnny’s son Shuggie played on it as well. Zappa returned the favor by getting Johnny a contract with Kent records for his great Cold Shot album.
Johnny with his son , incipient guitar genius Shuggie
Johnny was a white kid who grew up in a black neighborhood and basically lived as a black man. Black people assumed he was black, even my mailman, an ex-jazz drummer, told me that when he was a kid The Johnnie Otis TV show was the first time he saw black musicians on TV. Johnnie had a hit with Harlem Nocturne with his big band, then Willie and The Hand Jive with his Rock/ R&B outfit, and he would have been rich if he had gotten his fair share of Hound Dog, the original version of which he produced for Big Mama Thornton, but Leiber and Stoller ripped him off on a technicality. Farewell Great Johnny O, we all here on Earth will miss you but we’re all better off for your having been here.
Here’s a crazy film I happened upon last night. Joseph Losey’s The Big Night. A Coming Of Age Noir Urban Fairy Tale. John Drew Barrymore , son of the great Barrymore and father of Drew, stars and gives a great performance. He is pretty mesmerizing to watch, a fact not only due to his great talent but also to his mental instability. When a crazy person has talent they are fascinating to watch, Brando is another crazy genius that comes to mind.
Atmospheric Imagery thanks to veteran cinematographer Hal Mohr
This is a strange noir story of a boy’s 17th birthday and the night that he becomes a man.
Barrymore witnesses his father getting a savage beating from a crippled newspaper man, it sends him out into the night, the big city, thirsting for revenge.
John Drew Barrymore aka Barrymore Jr.
He goes to all the noir city hotspots, first a prizefight, his prey is a sports writer, thus serving up another staple of the noir canon, the figure of the newspaperman and the paper itself, their role in the Big City. While at the fight Barrymoore makes the acquaintance of a drunken PHD, a Doctor of Philosophy that aids him in his quest for “Al Judge” the evil columnist that caned his prostrate father. A spectator at the fight hands a bottle of liqour to the drunken doctor and I recognized this large individual as Robert Aldritch, who had worked as an assistant director with Joseph Losey on M and The Prowler. The pair of new friends follow Al St. Judge to a bar, lose him and wind up at another noir touchstone, The Nightclub! Complete with Jazz band and black vocalist. Here Losey masterfully limns a disfunctional relationship between the doctor and his mistress in a few deft strokes that tell you so much about them.
The second Mrs. Charles Foster Kane, Opera Singer Susan Alexander
The women is non other than Dorothy Comingore, Susan Alexander of Citizen Kane. She dances with Barrymore, a harbinger of her sister’s kissing him later in the film, his sexual initiation is with two women old enough to be his mother. An artifact of Losey’s relationship with his own mother, described in a biography as a “sexual predator”. Outside the restaurant Barrymore bumps into the Jazz singer telling her “she’s the best singer in the world” and ” really beautiful even if she is a…” (nigger).
Beautiful Jazz Singer! Mauri Lynn
The look on her face triggers instant regret in Barrymore, he didn’t mean to insult her, he just revealed his own upbringing and cultural limitations. A great shot follows of his anguished face in the rear window of a taxi that pulls away and disappears into the Stygian Night Of the City. A wonderful scene between Barymore and the sister of Comingore occurs at the apartment, again a motherly /sexual love thing happens. After a nighttime visit to the graveyard shift of the newspaper, Barymore finally tracks St. Judge down and has it out with the evil cripple. St. Judge reveals some startling information about the foibles of Barrymore’s father viv a vis his recently deceased sister, so unsettling the teenager that he puts down the gun and tries to leave but the rotten reporter reveals the depth of his depravity and turns the gun on our young hero, a struggle ensues , a shot is fired, the handicapped columnist hits the deck. John Drew returns to the apartment of lonely older women where the sister comforts him but his new “friend” the doctor throws him out threatening to kill him if he gets him involved in the case. Losey’s bleak view of humanity on display. Young John winds up back at home the cops show up and he pulls agun, threatening to kill himself, OK, nowadays the cops would open fire on the poor sap but back then they waited for him to work it out with his old man, the father reveals the boy’s real mother isn’t dead, she just met a new guy and split. “Don’t you hate her?” the teen asks. “No, I love her. ” The dad replies. The end! And it’s available for streaming on Netflix!