Johnny Otis was a giant in the world of R&B throughout the Fifties and beyond. His Wiki entry fairly rips through his incredibly full life and leaves you sort of breathless.
I’ve picked up a few of his records recently. For instance this year I have found, at separate spots, two copies of a 1957 UK release on 78. What were the odds of that, I thought? Well it turns out that the release in question – Ma, He’s Making Eyes At Me - was a big hit, Otis’ first in the UK. So maybe not so unusual. By the Seventies he wasn’t as prominent on the scene, with less touring and recorded output – of course he was in his fifties by then. However, every Seventies single I have come across with his name in the credits – all of them on small labels which I am guessing were his own – have been well worth the admission price.
As a band leader Johnny Otis often made a point of featuring and crediting collaborating artists on his records.
Ma He’s Making Eyes at Me, and it’s B side, was credited to The Johnny Otis Show, fully qualified as Johnny Otis and his Orchestra with Marie Adams and The Three Tons Of Joy. The B side – Romance in The Dark – is something of a marriage of big band, R&B and doo wop and is certainly a joy. The Three Tons Of Joy also get the credit on the B side although it is in actual fact the Moonbeams doing the backing I believe. I have not perfected recording a 78 yet, and even if I had in this instance there would be the basic problem that I have mislaid the disc, so it’s Youtube to the rescue for this one.
My most recent Otis purchase is a 45 on Hawk Sound, released in 1972 according to 45cat. Hawk Sound was Johnny Otis’ own studio and label. Again it is the B side that shines and it is a bluesy deep soul gem with, this time round, Big Daddy Rucker sharing the spotlight with The Johnny Otis Show. Big Daddy Rucker – aka Ervin Groves, aka Big Boy Groves – and Johnny Otis would seem to have been kindred spirits, both were on the scene in the Fifties, both led bands then, and both had offspring who also became successful on the music scene – Shuggie Otis, and Lani Groves who spent some years as a member of Stevie’s Wonderlove.