Farewell Johnny Otis!

Written by Joe D on January 19th, 2012

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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.

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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.

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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.

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