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Otis Spann
Background information
Born(1924-03-21)March 21, 1924 or 1930
Belzoni or Jackson, Mississippi, U.S.
Died(1970-04-24)April 24, 1970 (aged 40–46)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Genres Chicago blues [1]
Instrument(s)Piano, vocals
Years active1944–1970
Labels Decca, Chess, Storyville, Testament, Bluesway, Vanguard, CBS/Blue Horizon

Otis Spann (March 21, 1924 or 1930 – April 24, 1970) was an American blues musician, whom many consider to be the leading postwar Chicago blues pianist. [1] [2]

Early life

Sources differ over Spann's early years. Some state that he was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1930, [3] [4] but researchers Bob Eagle and Eric LeBlanc concluded on the basis of census records and other official information that he was born in 1924 in Belzoni, Mississippi. [5]

Spann's father was, according to some sources, a pianist called Friday Ford. His mother, Josephine Erby, was a guitarist who had worked with Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith, and his stepfather, Frank Houston Spann, was a preacher and musician. One of five children, Spann began playing the piano at the age of seven, with some instruction from Friday Ford, Frank Spann, and Little Brother Montgomery. [6]


By the age of 14, he was playing in bands in the Jackson area. He moved to Chicago in 1946, where he was mentored by Big Maceo Merriweather. Spann performed as a solo act and with the guitarist Morris Pejoe, working a regular spot at the Tic Toc Lounge. Spann was known for his distinctive piano style. He became Muddy Waters' piano player in late 1952 and participated in his first recording session with the band on September 24, 1953. [7] He played on many of Waters' most famous songs, including the blues standards " Hoochie Coochie Man", " I'm Ready", and " Got My Mojo Working". [7] He continued to record as a solo artist and session player with other musicians, including Bo Diddley and Howlin' Wolf, during his tenure with the group. He stayed with Muddy Waters until 1968. [8]

Spann's work for Chess Records includes the 1954 single "It Must Have Been the Devil" backed with "Five Spot", with B.B. King and Jody Williams on guitars. Sometimes he is credited for playing piano on a couple of Chuck Berry songs, including " You Can't Catch Me" (1956), [9] [10] but others indicate that it could have been Berry's regular pianist Johnnie Johnson. [11] In 1956, he recorded two unreleased tracks with Big Walter Horton and Robert Lockwood. [12] He recorded a session with the guitarist Robert Lockwood, Jr. and vocalist St. Louis Jimmy in New York on August 23, 1960, which was issued on the albums Otis Spann Is the Blues and Walking the Blues. A 1963 session, Good Morning Mr. Blues, for Storyville Records was recorded in Copenhagen. He worked with Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton on recordings for Decca [13] and with James Cotton for Prestige in 1964.

The Blues Is Where It's At, Spann's 1966 album for ABC-Bluesway, includes contributions from George "Harmonica" Smith, Muddy Waters, and Sammy Lawhorn. The Bottom of the Blues (1967), featuring Spann's wife, Lucille Spann (June 23, 1938 – August 2, 1994), was released by Bluesway. He worked on albums with Buddy Guy, Big Mama Thornton, Peter Green, and Fleetwood Mac in the late 1960s. In 2012, Silk City Records released Someday which featured live and studio performances from 1967 produced by the noted blues guitarist Son Lewis.

DVD recordings of Spann include his performances at the Newport Jazz Festival (1960), the American Folk Blues Festival (1963), the Blues Masters (1966), and the Copenhagen Jazz Festival (1968).


Spann died of liver cancer in Chicago in 1970. He was buried in Burr Oak Cemetery, in Alsip, Illinois. His grave was unmarked for almost thirty years, until Steve Salter (president of the Killer Blues Headstone Project) wrote a letter to Blues Revue magazine, saying, "This piano great is lying in an unmarked grave. Let's do something about this deplorable situation". Blues enthusiasts from around the world sent donations to purchase a headstone. On June 6, 1999, the marker was unveiled in a private ceremony. The stone is inscribed, "Otis played the deepest blues we ever heard – He'll play forever in our hearts".


In 1972, the site of the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival was named "Otis Spann Memorial Field". [14] That same year, Village Voice critic Robert Christgau called Spann "the greatest modern blues pianist". [15] He later included Spann's 1972 Barnaby compilation Walking the Blues in "A Basic Record Library" of 1950s and 1960s music, published in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981). [16]

Spann was posthumously elected to the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980. On November 13, 2012, Spann (along with cousin and fellow pianist Little Johnnie Jones) received a Mississippi Blues Trail Marker plaque, erected at 547 South Roach Street in Jackson, Mississippi where the family lived in the 1930s and 1940s. [17]


See also


  1. ^ a b Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music. Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 181. ISBN  1-904041-96-5.
  2. ^ Dahl, Bill. "Otis Spann: Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved May 29, 2014.
  3. ^ "Otis Spann". Retrieved October 13, 2016
  4. ^ Dicaire, David (1999). Blues Singers: Biographies of 50 Legendary Artists of the Early 20th Century. McFarland & Company. p. 119. ISBN  978-0-7864-0606-7. Otis Spann 1930
  5. ^ Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues: A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara, California: Praeger. p. 195. ISBN  978-0313344237.
  6. ^ Harris, S. (1981). Blues Who's Who. New York: Da Capo Press. pp. 477–479. ISBN  978-0306801556.
  7. ^ a b Wight, Phil; Rothwell, Fred (1991). "The Complete Muddy Waters Discography". Blues & Rhythm. No. 200. pp. 40–41.
  8. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 168. ISBN  1-85868-255-X.
  9. ^ The Chess Box Chuck Berry (Box set booklet). Universal City, California: Chess Records/ MCA Records. 1988. p. 29. CHD3-80,001.
  10. ^ Perone, James E. (2019). Listen to the Blues!: Exploring a Musical Genre. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. pp. 156–157. ISBN  978-1-4408-6614-2.
  11. ^ Rothwell, Fred (2001). Long Distance Information: Chuck Berry's Recording Legacy.
  12. ^ Leadbitter, M.; Fancourt, L.; Pelletier, P. (1994). Blues Records 1943–1970, vol. 2. London: Record Information Services.
  13. ^ Roberty, Marc (1993). Eric Clapton: The Complete Recording Sessions 1963–1995. New York: St. Martin’s Press. p. 16.
  14. ^ "Otis Spann Memorial Field – Ann Arbor". 2011-02-18. Retrieved 2015-10-06.
  15. ^ Christgau, Robert (December 17, 1972). "Gift Albums". The Village Voice. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
  16. ^ Christgau, Robert (1981). "Consumer Guide '70s: S". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN  089919026X. Retrieved March 13, 2019 – via
  17. ^ "Otis Spann". Retrieved 26 June 2019.

External links