Pianist, singer, songwriter.

Born 21 March 1924, Jackson, Mississippi
Died 24 April 1970, Chicago, Illinois

Arguably the most important pianist of the postwar Chicago blues scene, Otis Spann started playing piano at the age of seven, with some instruction from local piano players in his native Jackson. By 1944 he was playing in local bands around that city. After the death of his mother in 1947 he left for Chicago, where he would live for the rest of his tragically short life. There he met his hero and biggest influence, Big Maceo Merriweather, who took the young Otis under his wing.

Spann replaced Merriweather as Muddy Waters' piano player in late 1952, and had his first recording session with the band on September 24, 1953. From 1952 to 1969 Spann was a full-time member of the Muddy Waters band, which also included Jimmy Rogers and Little Walter. He was also in great demand by the Chess label as house pianist, accompanying artists like Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry ("No Money Down", "You Can't Catch Me"), Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Jimmy Rogers and Little Walter. And Muddy Waters, of course. But the Chess brothers failed to spot his vocal talents and as a result, Spann's Chess recording career under his own name is limited to one 1954 single, "It Must Have Been the Devil", coupled with the frantic instrumental "Five Spot" (Checker 807). These two sides featured B.B. King and Jody Williams on guitars.

His solo career did not really start until August 1960, when he recorded no less than 30 songs for Nat Hentoff's Candid label in one day, accompanied only by his own piano and the guitar of Robert Lockwood, Jr. Both men made vocal contributions ; piano instrumentals (like "Great Northern Stomp", Spann's adaptation of "Cow Cow Boogie") accounted for only a small part of the session's contents. Ten of the thirty recordings were released on the LP "Otis Spann Is the Blues", which has been hailed as a "tour de force" by boogie woogie historian Peter Silvester, though the album does not really qualify as boogie woogie, unlike some of Spann's later work in the 1960s. Most of the remaining tracks from the August 1960 session were issued posthumously in 1972, on the album "Walking the Blues" (on Barnaby, Andy Williams's label). 1960 also saw him appearing with Muddy Waters at the Newport Jazz Festival. Otis's solo career began to thrive, showcasing not just his remarkable talent on the piano, but also as a skilled composer and vocalist.

In 1963 and 1964 he toured Europe and recorded an excellent LP in London ("The Blues Of Otis Spann", Decca LK 4615), accompanied by Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Memphis Slim and others. Later 1960s albums on Prestige, Vanguard and Bluesway are all worth investigating. He also recorded with the early Fleetwod Mac (Peter Green, Danny Kirwan and John McVie), resulting in the LP "The Biggest Thing Since Colossus" (1969, on the Blue Horizon label). Also in 1969, Spann performed on Muddy Waters's half-studio and half-live double album "Fathers And Sons", a critically acclaimed recording which showcases Spann, the fine harmonica of Paul Butterfield and guitarist Mike Bloomfield. Shortly thereafter he finally left Waters (his replacement was Pinetop Perkins) to concentrate on his solo career. But just as his superb talent was being recognized as worthy of far more than sideman status, his health started to fail. Contemporary reports tended to suggest that this was alcohol related, but his death in Cook County Hospital in Chicago (April 1970) was through liver cancer, following a series of debilitating illnesses. He was posthumously elected to the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980.

More info : http://www.answers.com/topic/otis-spann

Sessionography / discography (very detailed) at:
Includes both his solo recordings and his work as a session man.

CD recommendations :
- Ebony and Ivory Blues (Blues Boulevard, 2012). 40 tracks from 1954-60 on 2 CD's. Liner notes by Alfie Falckenbach.
- Otis Spann's Chicago Blues (Testament, 1994). 15 tracks from 1965-66.
- Best of the Vanguard Years (Vanguard, 1999). 18 tracks from 1965-68.

Acknowledgements : Bill Dahl, Peter Silvester, Wikipedia.

YouTube :
It Must Have Been the Devil : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyYVDUudYr4
Five Spot : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4XtolJZZHI
Great Northern Stomp : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8qeU5jowUA
This Is the Blues : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjwJ-JcRDrw
Otis in the Dark : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PuTFQWrTAUo
Keep Your Hand Out Of My Pocket : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A9i2f3Ww36E
Spann's Boogie : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QSX9nlNMjVY
Spann's Stomp : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cNbtBqiyIJ4
Rock Me Mama : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZWnYmcnWss

Dik, January 2014

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at

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