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Thursday, June 16, 2011


We have looked at artists such as Chico Sesma, Lalo Guerrero, Don Tosti and the Armenta Brothers who took their musical roots of corridos & boleros and incorporated their styles into the big band, jump blues, jazz and boogie sounds of the late 1940's and early 1950's. We will now focus our attention to the rhythm and blues influence.
  Los Angeles was a virtual "hot bed" of rhythm & blues during this era & we will look at some of the artists who shaped this sound and influenced the Mexican-American youth who would later incorporate it into forming the Eastside Sound and the whole Chicano Soul genre.
  You will find a lot of valuable information in the book "L.A. R&B Vocal Groups 1945-1965" by Steve Propes & Galen Gart.


Born John Veliotes on December 28, 1921 and the son of Greek immigrants, Johnny Otis grew up in an ethnically mixed neighborhood in Vallejo, California. Even before falling in love with black music traditions, Otis identified with the culture of lis black childhood friends and cam to think of himself as black. After playing in a variety of swing orchestras, including Lloyd Hunter's Serenaders, he founded his own band in 1945 and had one of the most enduring hits of the big band era, "Harlem Nocturne"
  In 1947, he and Bardu Ali opppened the Barrelhouse Club in the Watts district of Los Angeles, he reduced the size of his band and hired singers Mel Walker, Little Esther Phillips and the Robins (who Later became the Coasters). He discovered the teeenaged Phillips when she won one of the barrelhouse Club's
talent shows. With his band, which toured extensively throughout the United States as the California Rhythm & Blues Caravan, he had a long string of rhythm & blues hits through 1950.
  In the late 1940s, he discovered Big Jay McNeely, who then performed on his "Barrelhouse Stomp". In the 1950s he discovered Etta James, for whom he produced her first hit, "Roll With Me Henry", (also known as "The Wallflower"). He also discovered Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard, Little Willie John and Eastside legend Little Julian Herrera.
  Otis' knowledge of R&B music, his connections and his popularity made him a natural promoter of the music he loved. Prompted by his desire to spend more time with his family, Otis quit youring in 1955, He became a Los Angeles disc jockey on KFOX with an immensely popular radio show which led to a television show, The Johnny Otis Show and later started his own record label, Dig Records. He is also credited with bringing many R&B artists to perform at the legendary El Monte Legion Stadium where young Chicanos would gather to dance & listen to the music of the day..
  In April 1958, he recorded his best-known recording "Willie And The Hand Jive", which relates to hand and arm motions in time with the music, called the hand jive. This recording went on to be a huge hit in the summer of 1958, peaking at #9 on the U.S. Pop chart, and becoming Otis' only Top 10 single. He would later do an answer to that hit entitled "Willie Did The Cha Cha" His most famous composition is "Every Beat of My Heart", first recorded by The Royals in the 1952 but which became a huge hit for Gladys Knight & The Pips.
  It is Johnny's discovery of Little Julian Herrera that would endear him to my heart which we will explore later. Little Julian's releases on Johnny's Dig label would become true "Eastside classics".

Johnny Otis was inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1994 as a Non-Performer for his work as a songwriter and producer.

You may listen to "Harlem Nocturne" here:

You may listen to "Willie & The Hand Jive" here:

You may listen to "Willie Did The Cha Cha" here:


Soley for historical, educational and listening pleasure.

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