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Album Review

Johnny Otis spent the year 1950 leading large and small bands from behind his scintillating vibraphone, almost always backing delightful vocalists. The Otis lineup was perpetually impressive: Little Esther Phillips, Mel Walker, Redd Lyte, Lee Graves, and naturally the Robins. Otis is also believed to have been one of three singers billed as the Beltones, crooning behind Phillips on "Just Can't Get Free." This batch of reissues is a delightful grab bag of Afro-American recorded entertainment. Anyone searching for those often-cited "roots of rock" should listen in on wild guitarist Pete Lewis during "I'm Living O.K." Irresistible honey-and-ginger-voiced Little Esther is particularly well represented here, either carrying a song by herself or teamed up with Mel Walker. On "Cupid's Boogie" these two find themselves sliding uneasily toward matrimony. An inevitable sequel, "Wedding Boogie," is the definitive Johnny Otis situation comedy routine, adding full-throated Lee Graves as a tippling jackleg preacher who flirts with the bride. "Freight Train Boogie," this compilation's only instrumental, is a masterpiece of topical rhythm, rock, and roll, featuring once again the twangy electric guitar of Pete Lewis and some smoking manipulations on the vibes by Johnny Otis.


Born: 28 December 1921 in Vallejo, CA

Genre: Blues

Years Active: '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Johnny Otis modeled an amazing number of contrasting musical hats over a career spanning more than half a century. Bandleader, record producer, talent scout, label owner, nightclub impresario, disc jockey, TV variety show host, author, R&B pioneer, rock & roll star -- Otis answered to all those descriptions and quite a few more. Not bad for a Greek-American who loved jazz and R&B so fervently that he adopted the African-American culture as his own. California-born John Veliotes changed his name...
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1950, Johnny Otis
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