Metallica's James Hetfield recently stated that the band was in the final process…
- Posted on Jan 19th 2012 3:00PM by Jason MacNeil
GAB Archive, Redferns
According to the Los Angeles Times, Otis -- born Johnny Veliotes -- was raised in Berkeley, CA, and began playing drums in his early 20s around the Los Angeles R&B scene which predominantly consisted of black artists performing with Otis, who was white. Today, he is considered by many to be the "Godfather of Rhythm and Blues."
"When I got near teen age, I was so happy with my friends and the African American culture that I couldn't imagine not being a part of it," he said in a 1991 interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
In 1946, Otis wrote an instrumental 'Harlem Nocturne' which was later covered by the Viscounts in 1960. But Otis was also on the ground floor in terms of discovering talent; he was once asked to judge a Detroit talent competition and selected a youthful Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard and Little Willie John as winners. He would also produce emerging artists such as the late Johnny Ace, Little Richard and Big Mama Thornton.
In 1955, Etta James had a hit with the Otis-cowrite 'The Wallflower,' also known as 'Roll With Me, Henry.' But his biggest song would emerge shortly afterwards. Using Bo Diddley's "Bo Diddley" backbeat as its base, 'Willie and the Hand Jive' would go on to be recorded by several musicians including George Thorogood and Eric Clapton.
Although his musical career effectively ended in the '70s, Otis spent recent years playing drums in a genre-spanning revue that touched on gospel, jazz, roots-rock and R&B.
He was also a published author, releasing 'Listen to the Lambs' in 1968, a "sociological critique" he penned in the aftermath of the turbulent Watts riots in California. He wrote another book, 'Upside Your Head! Rhythm and Blues on Central Avenue,' in 1994.
Otis hosted radio programs in Los Angeles and the Bay area as well. And in 1994, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Aside from the arts, Otis also ventured into politics on a state and federal level, even serving in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"RIP Johnny Otis," actor and Spinal Tap musician Harry Shearer tweeted upon hearing the news Jan. 19. "His band rehearsed across st. from my boyhood home, later we did shows on same radio station. And he had soul."