Archive for December, 2011

Very Nice Day Ends Here

Posted: December 30, 2011 in Uncategorized
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What Would Bob Marley Do?

The name of the beach is Las Palmas (AKA, Playa San Pedo) and it features a picturesque walk through a grove of tall palms, weaving in and out of their their trunks (many unfortunately scarred by a bad fire some years back) on a path framed by a steep, cactus studded hillside on the left, and lush, lagoon watered jungle on the right, to a wide sandy beach sheltered by an eye-pleasing outcropping of rocks. This day it was “crowded” with a total of eleven souls on its wide expanse, but oops I forgot the four additional dog souls, lots of waterbird souls, a little bitty crab soul or two, and a good number of minnow souls.

                                                                                  

Good morning everyone.

I don’t often get up early enough to greet the dawn back in Sonoma County, especially this time of year when it can be below freezing. But what a joy it is here in Baja. A little different every morning but always gorgeous. Roosters crowing, trucks starting up for the days work, dogs barking, hot water in the kettle whistling. Excuse me while I go get some coffee.

Happy Birthday, Johnny!

For many years I knew Johnny Otis only as the originator of “The Hand Jive”. But over time I began to notice the name “Johnny Otis” recurring over and over in my biographical reading of favorites Etta James, Little Esther, The Coasters, and countless others. The man was a major mover and shaker in the early years of rhythm and blues and rock and roll, both as a bandleader and a discoverer/promoter of stars-to-be. And then he moved to my neighborhood in the early 90’s. After settling into a ranch in Sebastopol, CA, he opened an organic grocery store, where he sold produce from his own ranch and stocked the shelves and bins with nutritious foods,  and wines from his vineyard, and decked the walls with his art work. In the evening he would roll back the shelves and bins, pull out a stage, and perform with a quartet of trusty sidemen and a featured vocalist or two. We were fortunate enough to catch the opening night of this small venue. With about 100 other fans we were able to see this historical master of vibes and drums get busy with an evening of his own material and lots of popular R and B covers. During this time period (ending in 2006), we were able to hear Johnny on local radio station, KPFA, every Saturday morning as well. His radio show featured musical selections, Johnny’s commentary on the music, politics, public service announcements for Johnny’s many causes, and organic gardening information. Johnny’s health problems brought an end to this phase of his career by the mid 2000’s. He is certainly missed by his many Sonoma County fans, and I wish him improving health and and a prosperous New Year on this day, December 28th, his birthday.

Wikipedia:  Johnny Otis (born Ioannis Alexandres Veliotes; December 28, 1921, Vallejo, California)[1] is an American singer, musician, talent scout, disc jockey, composer, arranger, recording artist, record producer, vibraphonist, drummer, percussionist, bandleader, and impresario. He is commonly referred to as the “Godfather of Rhythm and Blues”.

 

Otis, the son of Alexander J. Veliotes, a Mare Island longshoreman and grocery store owner, and his wife, the former Irene Kiskakes, a painter, is the child of Greek immigrants.[1][3]

He is the older brother of Nicholas A. Veliotes, former U.S. Ambassador to Jordan (1978–1981) and to Egypt (1984–1986).

Otis is well-known for his choice to live his professional and personal life as a member of the African-American community. He has written, “As a kid I decided that if our society dictated that one had to be black or white, I would be black.”

He is also the father of famed musician Shuggie Otis.

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“. This band played with Wynonie Harris and Charles Brown. In 1947, he and Bardu Ali opened the Barrelhouse Club in the Watts district of Los Angeles, California. 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 teenaged Phillips when she won one of the Barrelhouse Club’s talent shows. With this band, which toured extensively throughout the United States as the California Rhythm and Blues Caravan, he had a long string of rhythm and 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”). Otis produced the original recording of “Hound Dog” written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller with vocal by Big Mama Thornton, and was given a writing credit on all six of the 1953 releases of the song. As an artist and repertory man for King Records he also discovered Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard, and Little Willie John, among others. He also became an influential disk jockey in Los Angeles.

He continued to perform, and 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. 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 and the Pips. In 1969 he recorded an album of sexually explicit material under the name Snatch and the Poontangs. In 1970 he played at the legendary Monterey Jazz Festival with Little Esther Phillips and Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson. In the 1980s he had a weekly radio show in Los Angeles, playing R&B music.

Otis continued performing through the 1990s and headlined the San Francisco Blues Festival in 1990 and 2000, although because of his many other interests he went through long periods where he did not perform.

He was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 as a nonperformer for his work as a songwriter and producer.

Frank Zappa has cited Otis as the inspiration for his distinctive trademark facial hair, stating in an interview conducted by The Simpsons creator Matt Groening and Guitar Player magazine editor Don Menn, “It looked good on Johnny Otis, so I grew it.”

 

Of course one drawback to going on an extended vacation is that you don’t get to see your grandchildren, and they don’t get to see you. So I am making this blog entry a coloring page in hopes that their mom will find a way to make copies for Stella and Opal. Maybe Ms. Foster, the most excellent director of Loving and Learning Educare Center, will be able to print a couple of copies for them (and the other kids too, for that matter). Just make sure that you re-emphasize that Gail is holding an insect repellant stick of incense and not a cigarette. We love you, kids. Color us happy.

And all you other folks at home feel free to color in your own Local Coloring Page, post it on Facebook. Let your freak flag fly!

Color me aged parchment white.

The MCCBC is coming along as nicely as could be expected. To achieve maximum capability we’re gonna need an internet connection where we can stream video and music without fear or limitation, and at least a 32″ monitor.  Where are the anonymous benefactors when you really need them?