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Friday, December 28, 2007

Back to Music: Another Living Musician I Love - Otis Clay

Frank Zappa once said "Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid." I agree with his sentiment. So enough with the desperate state of the world and back to the music!

And let's talk about Otis Clay!

Most consumers of pop music think that "Trying to Live My Life Without You" was a Bob Segar tune. Yes, Segar had a hit record with that tune, but it was the great soul singer, Otis Clay, that first unleashed that terrific song back in 1972. Otis has a back story that sounds familiar - he grew up in Waxhaw, Mississippi and first started singing in church at the age of four. He came north to Chicago in 1957 and started singing with the "hard gospel" groups that were common in town at that time. He sang with the the Gospel Songbirds and the Sensational Nightingales. In 1964, Otis "crossed over" to secular music.

Otis had a number of successes early in his soul music career. You might remember some of his tunes - "That's How It Is," "I'm Satisfied" and "Got to Find A Way." Otis Clay's biggest successes happened in the early 1970's - that is when "Trying to Live My Life Without You" climbed the charts. But then, disco hit in the mid-70's, and Otis wanted nothing to do with that shit. Many soul singers rolled into the disco scene (the O'Jays, et al), but Mr. Clay stuck with the powerful emotion-packed soul music that he loved. His music disappeared from the radio and his records stopped selling in the U.S. So Otis did a very smart thing - he toured overseas, starting in 1978, where soul music was still hot. He is a bona fide hero in Japan and he also found audiences in Europe. Check out this video from one of his mid-90's tours of Germany.

Otis never really broke with his gospel roots. He continues to perform as a gospel singer - he headlined the Gospel Fest in Chicago last summer. So Otis is a double threat guy - a gospel star as well as a successful soul/blues man.

His vocal chops and physical presentation is classic old-school soul at its finest. I feel fortunate that I have seen him perform here in Chicago. Otis Clay always lays his heart on the stage.

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