Otis Blackwell

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1952-1954 Review

by arwulf arwulf

Like Chuck Berry, Brooklyn-born R&B shouter Otis Blackwell claimed to have been heavily influenced by cowboy and country music. While his main participation as a crucial player in the development of rock & roll is generally considered to have been that of composer ("All Shook Up," "Fever," "Great Balls of Fire"), this Classics chronological survey of the records he made for the Victor, Jay-Dee, and Groove labels between October 1952 and June 1954 is exceptionally rewarding. Blackwell's persuasive voice, his pronounced knack for solid rhythms and catchy licks, and the presence of several outstanding instrumentalists make for enjoyable listening. Looked at through a jazz lens, the discography is fascinating. In addition to saxophonists Budd Johnson, Lem Johnson, Frank "Floorshow" Culley, Al Sears, Haywood Henry, and Sam "The Man" Taylor, Blackwell's band was driven by rhythm players Freddie Redd, Panama Francis, Arvell Shaw, and Cozy Cole. Pianist Frank Signorelli is most well remembered as composer of "A Serenade in Blue," "Stairway to the Stars," and "I'll Never Be the Same," and as a founding member of the Original Memphis Five (1917!). Hearing him play R&B piano is a pleasant surprise for those already familiar with Signorelli's historical contributions to early jazz. The other visitation from the 1920s appears to exist in the person of pianist Fred Washington, who is heard on the last four tracks, waxed for the Groove label during June of 1954. This was very likely the same Fred Washington who recorded in Los Angeles with Kid Ory and Spike's Seven Pods of Pepper Orchestra way back in 1922. And on this disc he can be heard rocking away with Mr. Otis Blackwell 32 years later. The tunes are hot, the singer is inspired, the band jumps and bumps. Who cares whether these records made it to the charts? This is exceptionally fine music, full of fire, passion, and soul.

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