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Otis's idol was Count Basie, and he began as a big band leader who played swing and jump blues before moving into the rougher-edged R&B sounds of the 50s. That transition is captured in Otis's recordings for Savoy Records, all of which now come packaged as a three-CD set, THE JOHNNY OTIS RHYTHM & BLUES CARAVAN. The first disc includes Otis's big band playing "Harlem Nocturne," smooth, late-night instrumentals such as "Hangover Blues," and the jumpin' "Preston Love's Mansion." Among the vocalists featured with the orchestra are Basie's own, Jimmy Rushing, on "Round the Clock" and "My Baby's Business," Little Esther performing the 1950 hit "Double Crossing Blues," and the Robins's melodic harmonies on "If It's So, Baby." The house begins to rock once Big Jay McNeely's honkin' tenor sax joins the orchestra on "Head Hunter," The Little Red Hen," and "The Turkey Hop."
As the big band era faded Otis stripped his group down to a sextet and concentrated on backing vocalists. Disc 2 features the honey-toned Mel Walker on the ballads "Dreamin' Blues," "Helpless," and "My Heart Tells Me." Walker duets with Little Esther Phillips on a string of hits for Otis -- Mistrustin' Blues," "Deceivin' Blues," and "Faraway Christmas Blues." But in 1951Phillips left Savoy to go with Federal and Otis had to find another female singer. He discovered the big, bold voice of Linda Hopkins and recorded "Doggin' Blues" and several other tunes with her. Otis also makes his own singing debut during this session on the rockin' "All Night Long."
For fans of Johnny Otis, Little Esther, the Robins and Mel Walker this box set, which features one of Otis's own drawings on the cover, is a gem. But it is also a time capsule of West Coast rhythm and blues between 1945 and 1951. Otis went on to record with Etta James, Johnny Ace and Big Mama Thornton and create the Hand Jive movement, but it's his work included in THE JOHNNY OTIS RHYTHM & BLUES CARAVAN that shines brightest.
|Johnny Otis||Primary Artist, Xylophone|
|Big Jay McNeely||Tenor Saxophone|
|Marilyn Scott||Tenor Saxophone|
|Gene Phillips||Hawaiian Guitar|
|Leard Bell||Snare Drums|
|Walter Henry||Baritone Saxophone|
|Lorenzo Holden||Tenor Saxophone|
|Pete "Guitar" Lewis||Guitar|
|Floyd Turnham||Alto Saxophone|
|The Blue Notes||Vocals|
|Preacher Lee Graves||Trumpet|
|Von Streeter||Tenor Saxophone|
|Bobby McNeeley||Baritone Saxophone|
|Johnny Otis||Composer, Illustrations|
|Steve Backer||Executive Producer|
|Orrin Keepnews||Reissue Producer|
|Billy Vera||Programming, Annotation|
|Isabelle Wong||Graphic Design|
|Paul Reid III||Mastering|