An appreciation: Dave Alvin remembers Johnny Otis

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Guitarist, songwriter and singer Dave Alvin, a founding member with his brother Phil of Los Angeles roots-rock group the Blasters and subsequently a member of punk band X and critically lauded solo artist, remembers Johnny Otis. The bandleader, songwriter, producer, talent scout, drummer and disc jockey died Tuesday at age 90:

Johnny Otis was HUGE in my brother’s and my musical education and early musical experience.


I was about 14 when we started following Johnny Otis and his band around Southern Cal like Deadheads and Parrotheads would do years later for the Dead and [Jimmy] Buffett.

He had a stunning band (I can still name them all with the exception of the drummer, who I do recall was from the band Kaleidoscope) and his shows were a consistent, thrilling tribute to West Coast blues, R&B and soul.

Johnny was always nice and friendly to us and that meant the world to us. He was even interested in managing one of my brother’s teenage blues bands way back when. Twenty years later, I saw him perform in Long Beach and he walked right up to me and started talking to me as if no time had passed at all.

He was a huge force in R&B on the West Coast and in the Southwest, from Central Avenue in L.A. to Houston and Memphis. In his way, Johnny was as important as [Sun Records founder] Sam Phillips or [Chess Records co-founder] Leonard Chess in discovering new talent, both as a bandleader but also as a record producer -- everyone from Little Esther to Johnny Ace to Little Richard to Big Mama Thornton and so many more.

Not only was his music a gigantic influence on me, his political and sociological views always forced me to think outside the box. While I didn’t agree with everything he said, I agreed with a lot of it.

Johnny Otis made me think while I was rocking. Not many artists can do that.

Damn. This is really sad.


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-- Randy Lewis