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Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Otis’

Died On This Date (January 20, 2012) Etta James / American Singer

Posted by themusicsover on January 20, 2012

Etta James (Born Jamesetta Hawkins)
January 25, 1938 – January 20, 2012

Etta James was an American singer whose songbook included forays into jazz, blues, soul, gospel and rock ‘n roll.  Born in Los Angeles, California, James had what many would consider a rough childhood and spent many years in the charge of caregivers.  Singing from a young age, James was just 14 when she caught the ear of music impresario, Johnny Otis.  Otis helped her land her first recording contract with Modern Records and before she knew it, she and her group, the Peaches were touring with Little Richard.  In 1960, now signed to Chess, James released her debut album, At Last!, which included the smash hit single of the same name.   The album, which also included hits like “A Sunday Kind Of Love” and “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” peaked at #68 on the album charts but is nonetheless considered one of the great albums of the era.  She went on to have several more hits over the next two decades.  After parting ways with Chess in 1978, James struggled with personal issues before launching a well-received come-back during the late ’80s.  Over the course of her career, James was awarded six Grammys, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, an NAACP Image Award, and permanent homes in the Rock and Roll, Grammy, Blues, and Rockabilly Halls of Fame.  Rolling Stone magazine ranks her at #22 on their list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, and #62 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists.   In 2010, Etta James was diagnosed with leukemia and ultimately died of the disease on January 20, 2012.  She was 73.

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The Chess Box: Etta James - Etta James

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Died On This Date (January 17, 2012) Johnny Otis / R&B Great; Had Hit With “Willie and the Hand Jive”

Posted by themusicsover on January 17, 2012

Johnny Otis (Born Ioannis Veliotis)
December 28, 1921 – January 17, 2012

Referred to as the “Godfather Of Rhythm and Blues,” Johnny Otis was a man of many aspirations and musical talents.  Born and raised in the San Francisco area, Otis went on to become a successful bandleader, producer, songwriter, journalist, talent scout, arranger, disc jockey, vibraphonist, drummer, club owner, merchant, and even politician.  His most popular contribution to popular music came by way of “Willie and the Hand Jive,” which sold over 1.5 million copies, rose to #9 on the pop charts, and has since been recorded by the likes of George Thorogood, Levon Helm, Eric Clapton, Cliff Richard, and New Riders of the Purple Sage, to name just a few.  A child of Greek immigrants, Otis actually lived and worked as part of the African-American community while employing mostly black musicians for his bands.  He began making an impact on music during the late ’40s when he opened a nightclub in the Watts section of Los Angeles.  It was there that he made his first discovery, Little Esther Phillips, who went on to have several pop and R&B hits of her own. Other future greats he is credited for discovering and working with during their early years include Big Jay McNeely, Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard, Etta James and  Big Mama Thornton, whose signature song, “Hound Dog,” was produced by Otis.  In 1958,  Otis recorded the self-penned “Willie and the Hand Jive” which quickly became a smash with both black and white audiences and went on to become one of the most iconic songs of the era.  A tireless performer, Otis and his band toured the world well into the 2000s.  During the ’60s, he made an unsuccessful run for the California State Assembly.  Many blamed the loss on the fact that he ran under his virtually unknown birth name.  In 1994, Otis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in later years, he hosted “The Johnny Otis Show” on San Francisco radio station, KPFA.  Due to declining health, he did his last show in August of 2006.   His son, Shuggie Otis, had hits of his own during the ’70s. Johnny Otis was 90 when he passed away in his home on January 17, 2012

Thanks to Paul Bearer for the assist.

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Johnny Otis

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Died On This Date (August 14, 1988) Roy Buchanan / Electric Blues Great

Posted by themusicsover on August 14, 2010

Roy Buchanan
September 23, 1939 – August 14, 1988

Roy Buchanan was a respected blues guitarist who rose to prominence in the late ’50s thanks in part to his prowess on the Telecaster. Rolling Stone placed him at #57 in their list of The 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time.  He got his professional start early, playing with Johnny Otis at just 15.  In the early ’60s, Buchanan began working with Ronnie Hawkins alongside Robbie Robertson who he reportedly tutored on the guitar.  In the early ’80s, Buchanan was the subject of a documentary entitled The Best Unknown Guitarist In The World, an opinion evidently shared by the likes of John Lennon and Eric Clapton.  He was soon offered a record deal with Polydor Records who released his first solo album in 1972.   Except for a four-year break beginning in 1981, Buchanan continued to record and perform until his death in 1988.   Buchanan struggled with substance abuse for many years and on August 14, 1988, he was arrested and placed in a Virginia jail for public drunkenness.  Some hours later, his lifeless body was found hanging by his shirt in his cell.  His death was officially ruled a homicide, but his family and friends have claimed there was evidence to the contrary.   He was 48 at the time of his death.

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Roy Buchanan - Roy Buchanan

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Died On This Date (August 7, 1984) Little Esther Phillips / Early R&B Vocalist

Posted by themusicsover on August 7, 2010

Esther Phillips
December 23, 1935 – August 7, 1984

Esther Phillips was one of the premier female R&B singers of the 1950s.  It was R&B impresario Johnny Otis,  who first recognized Phillips’ talent when, at 14, she won a talent show at his night club.  Otis produced her earliest recordings and put her in his traveling R&B show under the name of Little Esther.   Phillips recorded several hits in the early ’50s, but an addiction to drugs slowed her descent down and eventually sidelined her in 1954.  She mounted a comeback once cleaned up in the early ’60s and began releasing hit records again.  One recording in particular, a version of the Beatles’ “And I Love Him” prompted the Fab Four to fly her to England to perform.  The disco era was kind to Phillips as she was able to adapt her sound to appease a new generation of dancing fans.  She had some of her biggest successes during that time.   Unfortunately, she could never quite shake her addictions.  She died at the age of 48 of liver and kidney failure attributed to many years of alcohol and heroin dependency.

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Esther Phillips

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Died On This Date (July 25, 1984) Big Mama Thornton / Blues Legend

Posted by themusicsover on July 25, 2010

Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton
December 11, 1926 – July 25, 1984

Big Mama Thornton gave the world two of the greatest songs in rock history, “Hound Dog” and “Ball and Chain.”  And they  would become signature songs for two of America’s biggest rock icons.  Just starting out in the early ’50s, Thornton, along with producer Johnny Otis, worked up a hard electric blues version of “Hound Dog” which was given to her by the songwriting team of Leiber and Stoller.  Her’s being the first recording of the song, she sat at the top of the R&B charts for seven weeks.  Elvis Presley rocked the song up a bit three years later, sending his career into the stratosphere.  Unfortunately, Thornton’s career didn’t take the same path.  She worked consistently throughout the ’50s and ’60s, but was never able to duplicate the success of “Hound Dog.”  And while her career was on an upswing in late ’60s, she wrote and recorded “Ball and Chain” for Arhoolie Records.  The song found its way to the great Janis Joplin who added her own sass to it on stage at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, a watershed moment in her career.  Sadly though, Thornton was again unable to capitalize on the success.  As the year’s progressed so did Thornton’s abuse of alcohol.  By the early ’80s, the once “Big Mama” was but a shadow of herself, weighing less than 100 pounds.  She died of heart and liver problems on July 25, 1984.

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Hound Dog: The Peacock Recordings - Big Mama Thornton

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