Saturday, October 02, 2010

Johnny Otis' Loving Celebration of Blues & Rhythm Music

Johnny Otis
The Johnny Otis Show Live At Monterey (Epic / Legacy)

This compact disc reissue of Johnny Otis rhythm and blues spectacular from 1970’s Monterey Jazz Festival is long overdue (part of which was in Clint Eastwood’s film,Play Misty For Me). Bringing together some of the giants of the music, (none of these still with us twenty three years later) Big Joe Turner, Eddie Vinson, Roy Brown, Pee Wee Crayton, Ivory Joe Hunter, Roy Milton and Little Esther Phillips, this was not merely some exercise in nostalgia, but rather a first rate afternoon of jump blues. They are all in great form with Turner’s I Got a Girl going back to his KC days, while Cleanhead and Roy Milton keep a nice groove going and Ivory Joe Hunter sings a ballad. Highpoint of the proceedings has to be Esther Phillips’ two songs, showing very much her Dinah Washington roots, but tearing into Cry Me a River Blues (with a great Clifford Solomon tenor solo) and Little Esther’s Blues, a medley of Blowtop Blues, T Bone Blues and Jelly Jelly. Johnny (who is still with us) reprises Willie and the Hand Jive. Also present were son Shuggie, and singers Margie Evans and Delmar Evans, part of Otis’ then current review. Shuggie has a country slide guitar feature, and a rocking electric guitar blues instrumental, Delmar Evans does a credible You Better Look Out, modeled on some Howlin’ Wolf songs, and teams with Johnny for Goin’ Back to L.A., a great take-off on Sweet Home Chicago. Otis put together a killer band, who really jump the blues. There has been hardly anything recorded in this vein since this that has come close to equalling this good rocking time.

This review originally appeared in the December 1993 Jazz & Blues Report, contemporaneous with the reissue of this classic album which I purchased when it first came out. Unfortunately the CD apparently is not currently in print although it is likely available from some vendors that sell to collectors. It is available for download on amazon and itunes and likely other sources. It remains a celebration of classic post-war blues and R&B that will never be equaled. And Johnny Otis is still with us 17 years later after this was reissued. In case you missed it, there is a terrific biography of Otis, Midnight at the Barrelhouse: The Johnny Otis Story by George Lipsitz published by University of Minnesota Press and available from amazon and other sources.

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