Thursday, January 19, 2012

Response to the Los Angeles Times' Johnny Otis Tribute

The following is my full response to this article: which is intended more as adjunct, than critique:

Thanks for the tribute.  I didn't know he'd written a second book. 

1.  Otis was a multi-instrumentalist. He played keyboards and the vibraphone. He gave up the drums because he felt it was too much work. 

2. The original issue of the Etta James (and the Peaches) song was titled, "The Wallflower (Roll With Me, Henry)" on Modern Records. It was reissued as, "The Wallflower (Dance With Me, Henry)", to avoid censure, even though the reissue's musical content was no different. It was covered by "Her Nibs",  Georgia Gibbs with altered, cleaner lyrics and this version charted higher!

3. Otis also played drums on (and possibly co-wrote, with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller) the original version of "Hound Dog", which was recorded first by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton and later recorded by Elvis Presley. The original ends with imitation dog howls.  Otis said he was, "the third dog from the left". 

A great talent and a great man. Choosing to adopt Black culture over his Greek heritage was very bold move at the time. It was not a fad nor was it a ploy to improve his musicianship as one of his friends and fellow musicians Preston Love stated in the introduction to "Listen to the Lambs". Listeners to his show would occasionally hear him talk about "our people" and he did not mean Greeks.  Otis was not a man caught between worlds, we, as a people,  embraced him.  My sympathies and prayers (as many others do, I am certain) go out to his family.

Rest in peace, Johnny Otis.