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johnny otis

Johnny Otis

with Mistrustin' Blues Singers in 1950

b. Ioannis Alexandres Veliotes, 28th December 1921, Vallejo, California, U.S.A.

d. 17th January 2012, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

Johnny Otis, was known by many music pundits as 'Godfather of Rhythm and Blues'.

He was a multi talented musician, as well as an entrepreneur throughout the industry, recording, arranging, producing, deejaying and performing musician.

Johnny & Shuggie Otis

with a young shuggie otis

Johnny was also the father of the performer Shuggie Otis.

Born to Greek immigrant parents, his father owned a grocery store, whilst his mother was an artist.

His brother was the U.S. Ambassador to Jordan during the late Seventies, early Eighties, later becoming the ambassador to Egypt.

At his career outset, Johnny made an intentional decision to work purely in the African American community, artistically.

Harlem NocturneUltra Violet

harlem nocturne b/w ultra violet - 1945/78

He formed his own Swing band after the Second World War, signing to the Excelsior imprint, releasing 'Harlem Nocturne', a song recorded under the name of Johnny Otis, his Drums and his Orchestra.

The line-up featured K. Pope (Sax), B. Harris (Sax), V. Streeter (Sax), P. Quinechette (Sax), L. Beck (Sax), L. Current (Trumpet), L. Walker (Trumpet), E. Preston (Trumpet), B. Jones (Trumpet), G. Washington (Trombone), J. Pettigrew (Trombone), J. Jones (Trombone), C. Counce (Bass), B. Cobbs (Guitar), H. Owens (Piano), and Johnny Otis (Drums).

The Orchestra performed with the likes of Charles Brown and Wynonie Harris for the Excelsior imprint.

Two years later he opened the Barrelhouse Club in Los Angeles, with his business partner Bardu his band, adding the singers Mel Walker, Little Esther Phillips and the group, later to become the Coasters, the Robins (who featured Roy Richard, Billy Richard, Bobby Nunn and Ty Terrell), along with guitarist Pete Lewis.

Esther won a talent show at the bar, and performed on several hits which the band achieved throughout the Fifties.

Johnnie then signed with the Newark based Savoy Records in 1949.

He had the R&B hits 'Double Crossing Blues', 'Mistrustin' Blues', 'Cupid's Boogie', 'Gee Baby', 'Mambo Boogie' and 'All Nite Long'.

Turkey Hop

turkey hop part 1 - 1950 / deceivin' blues - 1950 / double crossing blues b/w back alley blues - 1950

1950's version of Johnny Otis and His Orchestra featured, John Anderson, Floyd Turnham, Big Jay McNeely, Bobby McNeely, Devonia Williams, Pete Lewis, Mario Delagarde, Leard Bell, Mel Walker and Little Esther.

The vocals were shared by Esther Phillips, Mel Walker, along with other members of the group.

In 1955 Johnnie set up his own Dig Records imprint, and enlisted the artists Arthur Lee Maye & the Crowns, Tony Allen, and Mel Williams.

At the time Johnny discovered Big Jay McNeely, and later, Etta James, producing her first hit, 'Roll With Me, Henry', along with Little Richard.

He also produced the original (Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller penned) recording of 'Hound Dog' on Big Mama Thornton.

Rock & Roll Hit ParadeThe Midnite Creeper

rock and roll hit parade - 1957 / the midnite creeper - 1957

In 1957, Johnny signed with Capitol Records, under the name of the Johnny Otis Show.

In the latter part of the decade he hosted his own variety program on television, starring his band and guesting Lionel Hampton on one show.

Juke Box RhythmJuke Box Rhythm

He was also featured in the movie 'Juke Box Rhythm' in 1959 as himself.

In 1958, he recorded Willie and the Hand Jive' (number 9 on the U.S. Pop chart in 1958), which led to the dance craze mentioned in the song's title.

Johnny also composed 'Every Beat of My Heart', first recorded by The Royals in the 1952, and later a hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips.

When Johnny worked at King Records in 1961 - 62 other discoveries included Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard, and Little Willie John.

His band played with Johnny 'Guitar' Watson on several singles.

It was during this period, Johnny began his deejaying career, especially in the local Los Angeles clubs.

Cold ShotFormidableLive In MontereyCuttin' Up

cold shot - 1968 / formidable - 1969 / live in monterey - 1970 / cuttin' up - 1970

In the 1960's Johnny became involved in journalism and politics, becoming chief of staff for Democratic Congressman Mervyn M. Dymally.

He was also was the pastor of the Landmark Community Church.

1970 saw Johnny performing at the Monterey Jazz Festival with Little Esther Phillips and Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson.

R&B OldiesR&B OldiesWith Shuggie OtisRock N'Roll Revue

r&b oldies - 1973 / r&b oldies - 1977 / the johnny otis show featuring shuggie otis - 1981 / rock n'roll revue - 1982

Throughout the 1980's Johnny hosted a weekly radio show in Los Angeles, playing R&B music, and bought a farm near Sebastopol in California.

Johnny Otis!Gee BabyGood Lovin' BluesWatts Funky

johnny otis! johnny otis! - 1984 / gee baby - 1987 / good lovin blues - 1990 / watts funky - 2001

He continued to perform throughout the 1990's, performing at the San Francisco Blues Festival in 1990 and 2000.

Johnny was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, for his work as a songwriter and producer.

Due to his failing health, Johnny's final radio show last aired on the 19th of August 2006.

He passed away in January 2012.

Johnny Otis

Real Player


Mel Williams And Johnny Otis (Dig Records 1955)

Rock 'N' Roll hIT Parade, Volume 1 (Dig Records 1957)

The Johnny Otis Show (Capitol Records 1958)

Cold Shot (Kent Records 1968)

Cuttin' Up (Epic Records 1970)

Live At Monterey (Epic Records 1971)

The New Johnny Otis Show (Alligator Records 1981)

Spirit Of The Black Territory Bands (Arhoolie Records 1993)

Nothin' But the Blues: Willie & The Hand Jive (Laserlight Records 1995)

Live in Los Angeles 1970 (Wolf Records 1998)

Food for Life (J&T Records 2002)

Lizzie and the Hand Jive/ Fonkitup (Red Hot Records 2009)

Greatest Show on Earth (Doxy Records 2010)

Hand Jive (Hallmark Records 2011)

The Story, Vol. 2, 1957-1974: On with the Show (Ace Records 2012)

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