Otis Spann: Otis Spann Is The Blues

The pianist joins with guitarist Robert Lockwood Jr in a top-notch performance often preoccupied with the transition from country to city

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For some years Otis Spann was regarded as an accompanist, supporting Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Etta James, Howlin’ Wolf and others. This was the first under his own name, recorded in 1960, a classic of blues piano. The honours are shared though, with guitarist Robert Lockwood Jr, who features heavily, both in playing and singing (he and Spann contribute four vocals each).

Many of the vocals reflect the social situation of transition from country to city living, as sung by Spann on Country Boy and Beat Up Team. The interplay between Spann and Lockwood is top notch, each moving around the other, intuitively coming to the fore then receding, allowing the other to take centre stage.

Lockwood is effective in laying down a rich texture of chords, over which Spann uses a two-handed attack, his style rooted in boogie–woogie and barrelhouse and refined into modern Chicago blues, with left-hand chords of increasing force, sustaining a rolling beat, whilst his right hand makes runs, trills and flurries of notes. Other times, Lockwood briefly dips into bottleneck style, as on I Got Rambling On My Mind, but never settles for one particular approach. He leads into the toned-down My Daily Wish, as Spann takes a more subordinate role.

Two tracks – Otis In The Dark and Great Northern Stomp – are showcases for Spann’s solo piano, his left hand stomping out the chords as his right explores; he goes on flights of invention, relentlessly propelling the music.

The sound quality is good (remastered 180gm vinyl) and the sleeve has the original design and liner notes by Nat Hentoff.

Discography
The Hard Way; Take A Little Walk With Me; Otis In The Dark; Little Boy Blue; Country Boy; Beat-Up Team; My Daily Wish; Great Northern Stomp; I Got Rambling On My Mind; Worried Life Blues (43.37)
Spann (p, v); Robert Lockwood Jr. (g, v). New York, 23 August 1960.
Candid Records CLP30011