The Johnny Otis Show: Mojo Woman + Watts Breakaway
From Cuttin’ Up (Epic, 1970)
With no disrespect intended, it’s extraordinary that Johnny Otis is still around. Not just because he’s pushing into his mid-80s but mostly because he’s seen and done so much that it’s enough for several lifetimes. I won’t bother with an extended bio (you can find that here) but suffice to say, he’s been a pivotal figure in the development of R&B on the West Coast.
Cuttin’ Up finds him at this moment in the early 1970s where he’s trying to stay on top of the changes in the R&B world, namely by incorporating more funk into this soul and blues-driven tunes. Though he didn’t have a mass of LPs reflecting this sound, it wasn’t a total aberration either (look for his x-rated, humor/exploitation album, under the name “Snatch and the Poontangs”). His son, enigmatic blues/rock guitarist Shuggie Otis, plays on this album and if you’re familiar with any of Shuggie’s work, you know he can get down with some funky stuff.
“Mojo Woman” has long been a favorite of mine – I’m a big fan of funky blues. The two styles obviously mesh well together based on heritage only but when a set of players can pull off the blend, it sounds exceptional (see Lowell Fulsom’s “Tramp” for another example). “Watts Breakaway” is a funked-up take on a more conventional ’60s R&B arrangement but the addition of the drum breaks and the peppery horn section kicks it up a proverbial notch.