Johnny Otis, ‘Discovery’ Etta James Pass Within Days

As the music scene continues to change, the world becomes even further removed from the Golden Years of real, unpasteurized music . One thing about getting older is that we have to see our heroes pass along the way. It does beat the alternative but it’s still a very sad and uncomfortable aspect of life / death to witness this …which is one reason these pages are here , as much to highlight those still with us  as to remember those who have passed.

I’ve been thinking a lot of Johnny Otis in recent months. I knew he was still with us until now, but at 90 had lots of health issues and not doing a whole lot musically. Hadn’t heard from him or about him much at all. Even online searches weren’t telling us much new information. It wasn’t  many years ago he seemed to be everywhere, doing lots of different things. He was a fine musicisan and recording artist but spend most of his time producing and recording others.  He had a fantastic radio show on KPFA and affiliates in California to which I made a point to listen every Saturday morning. He continued to perform with updated versions of his legendary ‘caravan,’ featuring rising stars, such as Etta James, and in later years mostly older artists who never quite made the big name but who could have with a little luck, eg Barbara Morrison along with talented sons , Shuggie and Lucky.

I got to see Otis, who lived nearby in the burg of Sebastpol, an hour out of San Francisco. A quiet, liberal community, Sebastapol became home for Otis a few decades ago . It was a nice change for Otis, who grew up in then small town of Vallejo, California only to spend his formative years in the he big cities, discovering and introducing new talent such as Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke, Gladys Knight and James, and so many more.

Most interesting thing is that Otis was of Greek, Caucasian persuasion, but adopted the black culture after growing up in the diversified community of Vallejo and taking to the sounds and lifestyle around him. And he never these roots, continuing to play the small, local clubs in his later years, while providing a venue for his older, mostly black, friends, like Morrison, who couldn’t always find work in the bigger clubs.

Etta James was disocvered by Otis as a 14-year-old living in the projects of San Fransicsco.  She toured with Otis’ caravan shows before going on to become one of the top R & B female singers  with hits like ‘At Last’ and ‘Something’s Got A Hold On Me.’  She overcame drug and weight problems for a career lasting six decades.

The Johnny Otis Rhythm & Blues Caravan: The Complete Savoy Recordings





New Emm Virgin Essential Modern Records Collection Blues Artist James Etta Compact Disc

Review don’t do justice to the long, full careeres of these two pioneering artsits. Perhaps none could as Otis and James ‘s lives were so long and eventful to summarize in a few paragraphs.  See the recent Cadillac Man for a ‘Hollywood’ portrayal of James. Both have many albums still available, including those below.  Here’s one review that did t0uch some raw nerves…





Flash Cadillac ReEmerges, Jerry Lee at Clear Lake #51

JERRY LEE LEWIS will be the big name, by far, at the  51st Annual Surf Ball Room ‘winter Dance Party,’  but there’s a ‘sleeper’ performing that has quite a story to tell. It’s Flash Cadillac, formerly flash Cadillac and the Continental Kis.

Next to Sha Na Na , Flash Cadillac is probably the most famous rock and roll ‘cover’ band. There are other good ones who’ve been around a long time, like California’s PapaDooRunRun

As  with original groups with hit records, Flash Cadillac has seen the ravages of time decimate the group. Only bass player, Warren   Knight has been with the group since its inception in 1969,  an original member and current leader of the group. We caught the elusive group New Years eve in the Northern California burg of Livermore.  As we were told after the concert, original   and probably the most colorfull member of the group, ‘Spke’ had passed away on stage in 1993.

I had seen the group in its emryonic stages, when oldies cover bands were just getting going in the late 60s and early 70s and was lucky enough to catch Flash Cadillac when I was a student at UCLA in the early 70s. I remember there only being about 10 people in the audience,
which was the floor of a gymnasium at USC, Los Angeles. I don’t remember the show itself,but Warren did recall the group jumped in the pool after the show.
Mr. Flash Cadillac Vintage Print
So, a big fan of FlashCadillac, after their appearances on Midnight Special with Wolfman Jack,other movie and TV appearances and then the live performance. I had always been impressed with
the colorful characters. Besides Spike, who played the big tough guy,
there was the Jerry Lee =like piano player and others. I believe there was a real Flash Cadillac,the short, heavy set guy no longer with the group. Sorry, more information not available. Flash Cadillac also made it onto the American Graffiti soundtrack , even though they didn’t appear in the movie.

41 Original Hits From The Soundtrack Of American Graffiti

They claim themselves ‘the best band without a big hit record’ around. And its hard to disagree. Apparently, according to the tribute video that follows, ,  original lead , Sam McFadden – called the ‘best lead rock and roll singer’ by noted rock cridtic Robert Hilburn – also passed along with ‘Kris.’ Check out these videos and CDs for living proof proof of some real music.  By the way, Flash did have three Top 100 ‘ hits of their own, including ‘Boogie In the Back Row of the Movie Show,’ as heard in this video…

Jerry Lee Lewis has now outlived his Sun compatriots Elvis, Perkins and Orbison by many years. We’re lucky to have him , even if he may have slowed a bit (but who hasn’t at 75 years?  There’s only one Killer. Enjoy him while you can, like at the upcoming Surf Ballroom Winter Dance Party Feb 5 in Clear Lake, Iowa along with Flash. See below.  Here Jerry performs from his recent critically acclaimed  LP, Last Man Standing, songs with Tom Jones and the late , great Solomon Burke (Who Will the Last Fool Be.)

Million Dollar Quartet Poster Elvis Presley Johnny Cash

Last Man Standing – The Duets

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