Johnny Otis Rolls in Peace
Johnny Otis 1921 – 2012
R&B musician and bandleader Johnny Otis joined the heavenly band today after 90 years on earth. Otis was a unique character in the history of roots music. He was born to Greek immigrants in Vallejo, California and consciously chose to be black in a time when this was risky and dangerous. Nevertheless, Johnny went on to immense success with a big band, a smaller review, production and songwriting credits and an absolutely dead on eye for new talent. Etta James, Esther Phillips, Hank Ballard were all brought to the mic by Johnny. He recorded Big Mama Thornton doing “Hound Dog”. He was based out of Los Angeles and had a local TV show for years. This show, which only a few snippets are known to have survived, featured Johnny’s band backing every conceivable R&B star of the day.
Later he moved his family to Sebastopol up north and commenced a series of delightfully varied pursuits including organic farming, painting, sculpture, pigeon raising, authoring a cookbook, and a ministry. For years he had a show on Berkeley’s KPFA on Saturday mornings which was mandatory listening. He set up a storefront juice bar where the band would play weekend nights. His circle of friends spanned all cultures, races, and ages. He was our beloved local patriarch and will be greatly missed. He leaves behind his wife of 60 years Phyllis, sons daughters and numerous grandchildren.