Otis Spann (Born 21/03/1930, Died 24/04/1970)
|One of the finest pianist's of post-war blues, Otis Spann was inspired to play the piano at the age of eight by local pianist Friday Ford; the chronology of Spann's early years has become somewhat confused by his penchant for giving conflicting information in interviews. Over time a lot of what he had to tell interviewers changed to suit the circumstances and what he thought would be believed, like his tales of studying to be a doctor!!
For eleven years from 1952 onwards Otis Spann not only participated in numerous Muddy Waters recording sessions but, as his discography attests, was also in great demand by Chess as house pianist, accompanying artists like Bo Diddley (including Diddley¹s first session of 1955, which produced the classic 'I'm A Man'), Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Rogers and Little Walter; not to mention all his extra-curricular studio activities. Otis Spann's recording career under his own name began in 1954 with a dynamic single on the Checker label, supposedly recorded after an all night party, coupling the hoarsely hollered 'It Must Have Been The Devil' with the frantic instrumental 'Five Spot'.
Meanwhile, he continued to be an integral component of the Muddy Water's sound, accompanying him on the ground breaking tour of England in 1958.
He came to Britain in April 1964 under the aegis of the Harold Davidson Organisation, in company with Muddy Waters, veteran bassist Ransom Knowling and drummer Willie Smith, as part of an American Folk, Blues and Gospel Caravan. It was around this time that writer, journalist, record producer and jazz fan Pete Welding, began to champion Spann's cause Stateside.
A measure of recognition and respect in which Spann is held took place at a ceremony held at the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, when Muddy Waters presented Spann's widow, Lucille, with a plaque which read:
That September the performance area where the plaque was placed became known as The Otis Spann Memorial Field and remained so for the ensuing years of the festival.
Probably best remembered for the much needed subtle and complementary support he provided for Muddy Water's music, both on stage and in the recording studio, Spann nonetheless proved himself a fine recording artist in his own right. A variety of circumstances prevented him from demonstrating this particular skill as often as many of us would have liked. There is now at least a record of his great playing ("Last Call: Live at Boston Tea Party, April 2, 1970"), recorded only three weeks before his death, which showed his skills as an accompanist (supporting his wife Lucille's vocals) were still strong - worth investigating.(Thanks to Alan Balfour for the additional information for this Spann piece).