Upside Your Head!: Rhythm and Blues on Central Avenue / Edition 1

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Legendary jazzman Johnny Otis has spent a lifetime at the center of L.A.'s black music scene as a composer, performer, producer, d.j., activist, and preacher. His energetic, anecdotal memoir, Upside Your Head! Rhythm and Blues on Central Avenue, recalls the music, the great performers, and the vibrant culture of the district, as well as the political and social forces — including virulent white racism — that have shaped black life in Los Angeles. Resonating with anger, poignancy, joy, and defiance, Upside Your Head! is a unique document of the African-American musical and cultural experience.

Upside Your Head! recalls a 50-year career when it seems Otis either encountered, discovered, or performed with every significant figure in the early days of rhythm & blues and rock 'n' roll, including Count Basie, Esther Phillips, T-Bone Walker, Big Mama Thornton, and Lester Young. Drawing on dozens of vignettes, personal photographs, and hours of taped interviews from the popular "Johnny Otis Show," Upside Your Head! offers a moving tribute to the black community that gave birth to L.A.'s rhythm and blues. His stories celebrate the true roots in black culture of a distinctive American music while lamenting its eventual appropriation by the dominant white society.

A passionate memoir by legendary bandleader and musician Otis, who recalls the sheer joy and energy of the blues--and the stifling ugliness of racism. During Otis' 50-year career, he encountered, discovered, or performed with every significant figure in the early days of R&B and rock and roll. 75 illus.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"As his memoir demonstrates, Otis was an important (and largely unheralded) pioneer of rock 'n' roll . . . His wonderful evocations of L.A.'s rock 'n' roll world and the 80-odd pictures documenting it make the book required reading for anyone interested in rock's history." —Village Voice

"Music legend Otis's lifelong activism spans music, religion, politics, and business. This mix of music, culture, and race politics is a bold and risky attempt to rattle white America's conscience . . . Of interest to to music and social historians as well as lay readers."—Library Journal

"An educational, entertaining, and frequently thought-provoking book . . . it is a pleasure to see what Otis has done in the decades since he disappeared from the charts and to find that his writing has much of the same exuberance that he always showed in his music."—Boston Globe

"Musician, painter, sculptor and preacher Otis is an angry and eloquent man who writes from the unique viewpoint of a white man who has been immersed in African American culture and music since childhood . . . this is a wake-up call for white America."—Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Musician, painter, sculptor and preacher Otis (author of Listen to the Lambs and creator/performer of ``Willie and the Hand Jive'') is an angry and eloquent man who writes from the unique viewpoint of a white man who has been immersed in African American culture and music since childhood. His assertion that racism in American society may be worse than ever glistens with conviction and rage. Otis uses as his backdrop the development of jazz, blues and rock--particularly on the West Coast--in the 20th century, giving a fresh perspective on the contributions of black musicians and composers, while lamenting the appropriation of what were essentially black art forms by white society. Otis's recounting of his daily association with musicians both famous and unknown provides disturbing insights into the struggles of black performers in the U.S., and, by extension, African American society as a whole. The clarity and pace of Otis's style are deceptive; this is a wake-up call for white America. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Music legend Otis's lifelong activism spans music, religion, politics, and business. This latest endeavor, a mix of music, culture, and race politics, is a bold and risky attempt to rattle white America's conscience. Otis assigns his intended readership of salvageable socially conscious whites the monumental task of going ``upside'' the head of the ``lip-servicing'' Euro-American whites, whom Otis most vehemently resents. The book basks in a bygone era, when black music as an American art form grew out of poverty yet sustained dignity. Remembrances, interviews, and abundant photos form the basis of a Who's Who of rhythm and blues and early jazz. From L.A.'s Central Avenue of the 1930s, to the rebellion of the 1960s, to Rodney King, Dan Quayle, and Maya Angelou's poem, there's much food for thought. Of interest to music and social historians as well as lay readers.-- Cynthia Cordes, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, N.Y.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780819562876
  • Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
  • Publication date: 11/19/1993
  • Series: Music Culture
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 212
  • Sales rank: 1,495,545
  • Product dimensions: 5.99 (w) x 8.97 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Born in Berkeley, California, to a Greek immigrant family, JOHNNY OTIS grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood and developed a passionate commitment to the culture and music of African-Americans. He became a professional musician and went on to become a successful performer, composer, record producer, and talent scout. Otis wrote and performed the rock and roll hit “Willie and the Hand Jive,” played with such greats as Charlie Parker, Count Basie, and Lester Young, and discovered and promoted such stars as Little Esther Phillips and Big Mama Thornton. An author, sculptor, and painter as well, Otis continues t tour and perform regularly.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Creating Dangerously: The Blues Life of Johnny Otis, George Lipsitz
Part I: Central Avenue Breakdown
Part II: Rhythm and Blues
Part III: The Musicians
Part IV: The Music
Part V: Preaching, Painting, and Plowing
Part VI: The Los Angeles Rebellion and the Politics of Race

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