This Week’s Blues Photo Of The Week: Otis Spann: The Blues Recording Machine.
The date and place of Otis Spann’s birth is debated amongst historians. In our opinion this makes him even cooler. Most accounts do point to the fact that Spann was born between 1924 and 1930 and grew up in Mississippi. Otis learned his appreciation and passion from his parents and cousin Little Johnnie who was also a pianist. His father was a gigging pianist and his mother, a reputable guitarist who played alongside Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith.
He began working in the music scene as a pianist at the age of 14. He received guidance from various mentors along the way while in Chicago. His opportunity came when he replaced one of his mentors, Big Maceo Merriweather in Muddy Water’s band where he stayed until 1968. During that time, he also recorded with other acts such as Bo Diddley, Howlin Wolf and B.B. King. With his recognition in the industry, Spann later became known as one of the leading post WWII Chicago Blues pianists.
He did a lot of work as a long-time session musician with Chess Records. You can find him recorded on several Chuck Berry’s albums and on an Eric Clapton recording through Decca records. He was a very popular recording musician, with 23 of his own solo studio albums as well.
Spann unfortunately passed away in his early forties due to liver cancer. He is still regarded as a pivotal piano player in the Chicago scene and was posthumously induced into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980.