Silk City Records
BluesWax Rating: 9 out of 10
Spanning The Years
It took a while for the legendary pianist with the Muddy Waters Band to launch his successful solo career, but Otis Spann had a formidable discography in his own right when he died of cancer in 1970, aged only 40. Fortunately, this gem of a CD with 13 previously unreleased tracks has enhanced his impressive back catalogue even further. Mississippi-born, Spann, inspired by his mentor Big Maceo, moved to Chicago where he established himself as the leading exponent of post-war blues piano. The material on Someday… must have been stored in a can for half a century before the excellent Silk City independent blues and roots team brought it to production.
The sound quality is very clear and most of the recordings are live, although some may be in a studio with enthusiastic and noisy onlookers in attendance. My only quibble is that the liner notes are so general that the listener has to guess dates, venues, and band members; however this detail may just not have been available. For example, I would love to know the harp player on the opening instrumental, “Chicken Shack,”’ as the harmonizing and interplay with the piano are stunning. Also, who is the double bassist thumping out the rhythm with such aplomb on “Blues Don’t Love Nobody.”
Many of the tracks are acoustic and autobiographical, including “Country Boy,” with Spann in a reflective mood about his formative years as he sings, “I was born and raised in the country…I was down and the blues put me on my feet again.” In a similar vein are “Blind Man” and the melancholic “Come Back Baby,” whilst the tempo and temperature rise significantly with “Spann’s Blues” and “Back Bay Shuffle,” the latter reminiscent of the Muddy Waters band.
My favorites are both the electric and acoustic versions of the title track and also “Meet Me In The Bottom.” This is because they epitomize the maestro’s distinctive style whereby the trill of alternate notes and ripple of keys during improvisation with the right hand are complemented perfectly by the maintenance of a steady bass riff with his left.
Overall, this Otis Spann collection is highly significant in that it marks the shift between the authentic country blues he was leaving behind and the new urbane life in the company of luminaries such as Waters, Clapton, and Fleetwood Mac. The album also highlights Spann’s immense vocals, songwriting, and bandleadership qualities which have previously been underestimated.
Congratulations to Silk City for this wonderful piece of blues history.
Dave Scott is a contributing writer at BluesWax
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