UPSIDE YOUR HEAD! by Johnny Otis


Rhythm and Blues on Central Avenue
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 Hodgepodge of essays, reminiscences, and radio-interview transcripts by L.A.-based R&B drummer/concert promoter/songwriter Otis. Born John Veliotes in 1921 to a Greek-American family, Otis has become what he calls a ``Black by persuasion.'' In the 50's, he was an important band leader in the L.A. area, promoting the careers of many musicians and vocalists; his own hits include the early 50's novelty number, ``Willie and the Hand Jive.'' Here, Otis alternately blasts the American political landscape for racism and waxes nostalgic over the ``good old days'' of early R&B. But his political musings are simplistic (``Racism was the primary factor in the deterioration of African American culture,'' he says, as if the proliferation of new forms of entertainment had nothing to do with the decline of more traditional styles) and also somewhat odd (his constant referrals to ``our people'' while contending that no white can empathize with the black experience seem particularly strange since he himself is white). Moreover, readers looking for new information on the birth of R&B will be disappointed. Occasionally, Otis comes up with an enlightening comment on a musician he's known (he describes Count Basie's piano-playing as ``a well-modulated style of plinks and planks that usually concealed the deep reservoir of heat that lurked just below the surface''), but more often his comments border on rosy-eyed nostalgia (a typical description of the early L.A. music scene: ``Central Avenue was full of thrills at that time''). The author's lack of sympathy for today's performers--they have no ``discipline and style'' and replace musicianship with showmanship--may be on target, but he paints this picture with a mile-wide brush. Essentially a cranky look at politics and today's pop music. (Seventy-five b&w photos)

Pub Date: Nov. 19th, 1993
ISBN: 0-8195-5263-1
Page count: 190pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1993