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Monday, 21 May 2018

Otis Blackwell - Singin' The Blues

Side A:
01. Daddy Rollin' Stone
02. Tears Tears Tears
03. On That Power Line
04. Don't Know How I Loved You
05. Go Away Mr. Blues
06. Ain't Got No Time
07. You Move Me Baby

Side B:
01. My Poor Broken Heart
02. Let The Daddy Hold You
03. You're My Love
04. I'm Standing At The Doorway To Your Heart
05. I'm Coming Back Baby
06. My Josephine
07. I'm Travelin' On

O.K. folks, you got it! Rock 'n' Roll fans the wide world over have been demanding more Otis Blackwell tracks since I posted the Krazy Kat "Listen To Dr. Jive" compilation of Joe Davis sides which featured a couple of tracks by Otis - "Oh! What A Wonderful Time" and "Bartender Fill It Up Again."  The notes on the back of the LP referred to an earlier release on sister label Flyright of an Otis Blackwell LP called "Singin' The Blues," an LP which I never did buy back in the 1980s. Well I've managed to cobble together a "reconstruction" of that album by gathering the necessary music files from, ahem, certain sources, and downloading and slightly adapting the artwork from All hail

This 1981 Flyright LP was in fact a reissue of a 1957 release on Davis (JD-109) with the same title and same tracks but of course different artwork:

The download includes a bonus folder - the complete original LP artwork adapted from the heritage auctions website. Real R&B fanatics who prefer to present original artwork on their computer media player will therefore be in hog heaven.

Which brings us to Otis Blackwell himself. He is best known of course for the series of hit songs he penned for Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis among others - "Don't Be Cruel," "All Shook Up," "Return To Sender," "Great Balls Of Fire" and "Breathless." He also wrote "Fever" under a pseudonym (to get round a contract he had with Joe Davis, according to some) and the Dee Clark hit "Hey Little Girl." But it's not these glorious achievements which concern us here, but rather the early years of Otis Blackwell's career when he was a blues singer scuffling round the clubs and dives of early '50's NYC. A win at an Apollo Theatre talent show brought him to the attention of record man Joe Davis who introduced him to RCA.

Otis Blackwell's style was unusual for an R&B singer of the time. His singing was obviously influenced by Roy Brown, Larry Darnell and the other emotional big blues belters of the day but the songs that he sang were often a synthesis of R&B, country and Latin which made his records on RCA and Joe Davis's Jay-Dee label sound ahead of their time. Indeed some of his records, backed by big, bold brassy arrangements featuring the best of NYC session men, sound like templates for the kind of sound that Elvis would record for RCA in 1956-57.

It has to be said though that Otis Blackwell's voice had its limitations and that he occasionally doesn't quite "get there" on some of his sides. His first two singles were recorded for RCA in October 1952, backed by a band which included "Floorshow" Culley on tenor sax and Budd Johnson on baritone sax. "Wake Up Fool" which was released in December 1952 was a hard rocker which could have sounded perfectly at home on an Elvis album in 1957. The follow up, "Fool That I Be" had a Latin rhythm which again anticipated the sound of the second half of the '50's.

The first session for Jay-Dee in September 1953 with a studio band which included Al Sears on tenor sax and drummer Panama Francis brought the moody classic "Daddy Rollin' Stone" and yes, every time I listen to it I can't help but imagine Elvis performing it. For the next three Joe Davis sessions (December 1953, and two in May 1954), Otis was ably backed by a band led by Lem Johnson. These tracks were mostly rather more conventional R&B, although "Ain't Got No Time" had a strong New Orleans influence. The final two tracks from these sessions were country style songs with "Nobody Met The Train" (not on this LP) being an out and out weeper of the type which comedian Billy Connolly once observed, would have "the blood running out of your record player."

In June, 1954, Otis recorded four sides for the RCA subsidiary Groove. One single was released, the A Side of which "Oh! What A Babe" was a gospel influenced rocker which had Sam "The Man" Taylor on tenor sax, Haywood Henry on baritone sax and Mickey Baker on guitar. Otis returned to Jay-Dee in March 1955 for his final four tracks for that company. The band again featured Sam Taylor, Haywood Henry and Mickey Baker and the dynamic Big Beat arrangements were by Leroy Kirkland. This session illustrates that Otis was definitely at his best on uptempo riffers ("Oh What A Wonderful Time" and "You Move Me Baby") or on the moody Latin-tinged numbers like "Let The Daddy Hold You," but the ballad style blues numbers such as "My Poor Broken Heart" were definitely a struggle.

From 1956 onwards Otis Blackwell's recording activities took a back seat to his much more lucrative songwriting. There were intermittent sessions from 1957 - 1962 with occasional singles coming out on Gale, Atlantic, Date, Cub and MGM.

Although many of his songs were collaborations (with Winfield Scott, Jack Hammer inter alia) and some of his songwriting credits were shared (ahem) with Elvis, Otis still made enough from his writing to enjoy a more than comfortable lifestyle. His obituary in the New York Times (May 9th, 2002) ended with a memorable quote - "I wrote my songs, I got my money and I boogied." What more could you ask for?

Fax On The Trax

"Daddy Rollin' Stone," "On That Power Line," "Don't Know How I Loved You" and "Tears! Tears! Tears!" were recorded in New York on September 22nd, 1953. Personnel: Otis Blackwell (vocal) with Al Sears (tenor sax); Frank Signorelli (piano); Tony Gottusso (guitar); Frank Carroll (bass); Panama Francis (drums).

"Daddy Rollin' Stone" / "Tears! Tears! Tears!" released on Jay-Dee 784 in October 1953. Reviewed in "Billboard" 24th October 1953: "Daddy Rollin' Stone - This one shows originality and is likely to gain favor with listeners."

"Don't Know How I Loved You" / "On That Power Line" released on Jay-Dee 791 in May 1954.

"I'm Travelin' On," "You're My Love," Go Away Mr. Blues" and "Bartender Fill It Up Again" recorded in New York on December 30th, 1953. Personnel: Otis Blackwell (vocal) with Lem Johnson (tenor sax); Bill Graham (baritone sax); Conrad Frederick (piano, celeste on "Go Away Mr. Blues"); Arvell Shaw (bass); Cozy Cole (drums).

"Bartender, Fill It Up Again!" / "You're My Love" released on Jay-Dee 787 in January 1954. Reviewed in Billboard on 6th February 1954. "Bartender, Fill It Up Again! - Watch this one, it could be a real coin-grabber."

"I'm Comin' Back Baby" / "Go Away Mr. Blues" released on Jay-Dee 798 in March 1955.

"I'm Travelin' On" not released on single.

"My Josephine," "Ain't Got No Time" and "I'm Comin' Back Baby" recorded in New York on May 12th, 1954. Personnel: Otis Blackwell (vocal) with Lem Johnson (tenor sax); Dave McCrea (baritone sax); Conrad Frederick (piano); Frank Carroll (bass); Panama Francis (drums).

"My Josephine" / "Ain't Got No Time" released on Jay-Dee 794 in October 1954. Of "My Josephine" Billboard said on 30th October 1954, "good performance, but Blackwell needs stronger material."

As already noted, "I'm Comin' Back Baby" was released with "Go Away Mr. Blues" on Jay-Dee 798 in March 1955.

"Nobody Met The Train" and "I'm Standing At The Doorway To Your Heart" were recorded in New York on May 26th, 1954.

"Nobody Met The Train" / "I'm Standing At The Doorway To Your Heart" released on Jay-Dee 792 in June 1954.

"My Poor Broken Heart," "Oh What A Wonderful Time," "You Move Me Baby" and "Let The Daddy Hold You" were recorded in New York on March 9th, 1955. Personnel: Otis Blackwell (vocal) with Sam "The Man" Taylor (tenor sax); Haywood Henry (baritone sax); Ernest Hayes (piano); Mickey Baker (guitar); Milt Hinton (bass); Specs Powell (drums); Leroy Kirkland (arranger).

"My Poor Broken Heart" / "You Move Me, Baby" released on Jay-Dee 802 in April 1955.

Above: The Cash Box, April 9th, 1955.

Note: "You Move Me Baby" b/w "Daddy Rollin' Stone" was released on Davis 455 in November 1956.

"Oh! What A Wonderful Time" / "Let The Daddy Hold You" released on Jay-Dee 808, probably in the second half of 1955. Jay-Dee 806 (The Goldentones) was released in July 1955, Jay-Dee 810 (The Scale-Tones) was released in February 1956, so the release date for Jay-Dee 808 must lie somewhere in between!


Bob Mac said...

Very good BW, a most welcomed addition to my R&B collection.

Anonymous said...

thank You for O.Blackwell LP;
I have to admit that the name
was not totally unfamiliar, but
I didn't know he was a singer too.
Good to get the picture together.
- Jay from the North.

Anonymous said...

I love Otis Blackwell and can't believe he isn't better known! The Otis Blackwell tribute album was one of the better ones by virtue of all the great songs he wrote or co-wrote! Thanks! - Stinky

carlos said...

Gracias por este trabajo de Otis Blackwell. Grandioso!!!.