Like many of the early blues players, the exact date and place of Otis Spann’s birth is debated amongst historians and various sources, which in my opinion makes him even cooler. Most accounts do point to the fact that Otis Spann was born between 1924 and 1930 and grew up in parts of Mississippi. Growing up, music was all around Otis and he 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, impressively, was a well-known and reputable guitarist who reportedly played alongside Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith.
Otis Spann began working in the music scene as a pianist at the age of 14 and received guidance from various mentors along the way while in Chicago. His biggest opportunity came when he replaced one of his mentors, Big Maceo Merriweather in Muddy Water’s band where he would stay until 1968. During that time, he also recorded frequently with other acts such as Bo Diddley and Howlin Wolf, and B.B. King. With all of his recognition in the industry, Spann later became known as one of the leading post WWII Chicago Blues pianists.
He was also a long-time session musician with Chess Records, appearing on some of Chuck Berry’s albums and also got on an Eric Clapton recording through Decca records. He was obviously a very busy recording musician, with 23 of his own solo studio albums as well as appearing on many other artist’s albums.
Spann unfortunately passed away in his early forties due to liver cancer. He continues to be regarded as a pivotal piano player in the Chicago scene and was posthumously induced into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980.
As always, for more great blues photos like this one, click here: https://keepingthebluesalive.org/still-blues/