When Johnny Otis first made a name for himself in Los Angeles, it was the post-war golden era of Hamp and Mingus, Club Alabam, The Barrelhouse and Central Avenue-.-the urban crucible within which jazz begat rhythm and blues. A couple of years into the next decade, the action had to shifted slightly to Western and Broadway, Club Oasis, Club Alimony and the 5/4 Ballroom. All these thoroughfares were still geographical slivers of the black American community within the district known as Watts, a community as artistically vibrant as it was economically disenfranchised. And while Johnny Otis commanded tremendous respect for his music amongst that select population, within a couple of years, he would be known throughout southern California as tastemaker supreme to a diverse audience of blacks, whites and hispanics - and the music would no longer be known as rhythm and blues, but as rock'n'roll. Otis went from being dubbed the Duke Ellington of Watts" to becoming "The King Of Rock'n'Roll". And he did it principally through the media of radio and television.
This compilation has been in gestation for several years, ever since a truck showed up at my house one day to deposit boxes and boxes of reel-to-reel tape, all belonging to the distinguished Mr Otis. They had come out of storage from the local public access radio station, where some years prior, some kind of audio-documentary had been apparently planned but never completed. Thanks to Johnny's manager Terry Gould, I had the opportunity to go through the tapes, before they were ultimately returned to their rightful owner. And what a blast that was. Not only did I unearth many missing or unknown tracks from Johnny's mid-1950s Dig and Ultra Records operations, but there was a whole slew of later 1960s and 1970s masters, some of which my colleague Mr Rudland has subsequently let loose upon his numerous and essential funk collections. Most fascinating of all were a large quantity of tapes pertaining to the man's various media pursuits from 1950s Los Angeles, when he was in his prime: airchecks, broadcasts, specially-recorded promotional spots and feeds from TV soundstages. Many were in excellent shape, audio-wise - it would appear that, thanks to his busy schedule performing, producing and A&Ring, he often pre-recorded radio shows at his Hollywood studio, and several of these were amongst the cache.
I subsequently spent some time sifting through the recordings and editing them together, to create a sort of audio-verite collage. Had a ball doing it too. The crux of the compilation are two "in-person" segments, one a live broadcast from the 5/4 Ballroom circa 1953, the other excerpts from the soundtrack of a 1958 instalment of Johnny's influential KTLA-TV show. On both of these, in addition to the swinging Johnny Otis Orchestra, we hear featured vocalists like Marie Adams and Arthur Matthews, and a rare live cut by the Penguins. The remainder of Vintage 1950s Broadcasts From Los Angeles revolves around selected airchecks, with Johnny spinning hot R&B and wisecracking on the radio. As well as rockers from Don & Dewey and Jeani Mack, we hear Johnny's own lost rock'n'roll classic, Tough Enough, familiar to Brits via Sir Cliff's version-.-incredibly the fine, fine original is finally making its CD debut here. There's also the bonus of another unissued Dig side, by the Mermaids. The tunes are interspersed with ads, trailers, a political spot from LA Dodger endorsing Johnny's unsuccessful run for public office, and a hilarious rap with Slim Gaillard and Tim "Kingfish" Moore of the Amos'n'Andy Show.
I owe a special debt to Johnny Otis, as does my wife, Cindy - after all, he did the honours at our wedding! So Vintage 1950s Broadcasts From Los Angeles is just a small thank you, and at best it can only begin to approximate the tremendously important role in which this unique man championed R&B, supported and aided the black community, and turned a whole generation on in the process."
by Alec Palao