Friday, 20 January 2012

From Otis to Glass: A Short Musical Journey

Johnny Otis, the Greek-American 'godfather of rhythm and blues', has died at the age of 90. After beginning as a drummer in swing orchestras, he effectively adopted a black musical identity and went on to have a remarkable career as musician, singer, talent scout and songwriter (with the odd lapse, e.g. Ma, He's Making Eyes at Me, a UK number 2 in 1957). Otis played the drums - just listen to him - on Big Mama Thornton's Hound Dog. He also wrote the lovely Every Beat of My Heart for Gladys Knight, her breakthrough single in 1961 (here she is reprising it a decade later). As a producer, he was responsible for all the R&B hits of Johnny Ace, until the singer accidentally shot himself in 1954, the year Otis launched Etta James - he sure could spot talent...
Johnny Ace lives on in the song The Late Great Johnny Ace on Paul Simon's best album, Hearts and Bones. The beautiful one-minute coda is by Philip Glass. Enjoy.