OTIS GRAND: He Knows the Blues

Today we welcome guest writer Dave Thomas to the Stereonow blues music family. Dave is the driving force behind north London’s blues revival. He performs regularly with his band The Vintage, organises the annual North London Blues Festival (February each year), keeps everyone in line during the Friday Blues Night at St Monica’s Hall, Cannon Hill N14 (the St Harmonica Blues Club) and occasionally gets to walk his dog, squeeze his lemon, dust his broom and, err … that’s it. Hello Dave!


There was a time in the early nineties when you couldn’t listen to Paul Jones’s Gig Guide’ on Jazz FM without getting details of where Otis Grand was performing. Otis was certainly being hailed then as the biggest thing in British Blues. He was voted best UK based blued guitarist in 1990 and 1991 and it is easy to see the regard with which he was, and still is, held by fellow musicians by the names and stature of some of those who joined Otis and his big band on ‘He Knows The Blues’. Joe Louis Walker, one of the hottest US Bluesmen on the circuit at that time co produced the album with Otis, trades guitar licks with him on SRV (My Mood Too), and provides one of his songs for the album, ‘Leave That Girls Alone’. This is a haunting song reminiscent of Robert Cray until the horn section, arranged by Joe Louis Walker kicks in!
This is an album that not only shows the talent and versatility of Otis Grand as a vocalist and guitarist but also demonstrates his qualities as a bandleader and musical arranger. Eight of the twelve tracks are penned, or co-written, by him starting with rousing vocal and guitar performance on ‘Things Are Getting Harder to Do’, a track that instantly makes you eager for the rest of the album and also features Mick Weaver on Hammond Organ

Sax player Pee Wee Ellis, a member of James Brown’s band in the sixties contributes the horn arrangements on ‘You Hurt Me’ and he contributes a tremendous sax solo on ‘Ham’ set to the beat originated on the West Coast by band leader Count Otis Matthews in the 1940’s which came to be known as ‘shave and a haircut – six bits’ and became the trademark of Bo Dudley and the early Rolling Stones.

‘ Your Love Pulls No Punches’ puts you in mind of John Mayall, well sung by Otis and with trumpet horn arrangements that are provided by Calvin Owens, BB King’s former bandleader.  ‘Jumpin for Jimmy’ and ‘Swing Turn’ sees Jimmy ‘T99’ Nelson providing the vocals making you think that you’re sitting in on a band and front man on the Chitlin Circuit.

There isn’t much to dislike about this album. Given the talent that was queuing up to work with him, Otis was always on to a winner. The album’s real strength is the wide range of Rhythm and Blues that he band produce under Otis’ direction from soulful blues through big band swing to the gritty guitar based blues of Chicago.

A great addition to any collection that will make you want to listen to more of Otis Grand’s work.


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