Johnny Otis, The Essential Recordings

Alex Abramovich

By Alex Abramovich

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
A handy overview of one of L.A.’s premier R&B artists.

The father of Shuggie Otis and the man who discovered Etta James, Big Mama Thornton, Hank Ballard, Jackie Wilson and the Coasters, Johnny Otis has long been the king of the West Coast rhythm and blues scene, and a pioneering figure in the history of rock & roll. This collection includes his first hit ("Harlem Nocturne," in 1945), as well as his last (the Jimi Hendrix- and Lowell Fulson-influenced "Country Girl," in 1969). In between, we're treated to classics ("Willie and the Hand Jive," which did as much as Bo Diddley to popularize the "Bo Diddley" beat), raunch ("Signifyin 'Monkey," which is a nasty as any N.W.A. track) and a handful of big-band numbers (which do more than any book to illustrate the true lineage of rhythm and blues and rock & roll). The title might be a misnomer (if the sound of Otis 'band backing up Big Mama Thornton on the original recording of "Hound Dog" isn't essential, what is?). But the record itself is an excellent place to start exploring Otis's fabled career.