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Johnny Otis, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who wrote and recorded the 1958 R&B classic “Willie and the Hand Jive” and produced the original “Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thornton in 1952, died Tuesday at his home in Altadena, Calif. He was 90.
His death was confirmed to the New York Times by manager Terry Gould.
Otis led a band in the late 1940s that was credited with helping to create modern-day rhythm and blues by combining big band jazz standards with the blues and gospel music and earning him the nickname “the Godfather of Rhythm and Blues.” He was inducted into the Rock Hall in 1994.
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At his induction, Etta James — who coincidentally died Friday — called Otis her “guru.”
As a producer, he was instrumental in the success such legendary performers as Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard and the Robins, a vocal group that evolved into the Coasters.
Otis began his career as a drummer for piano player Count Otis Matthews in the early 1940s. By mid-decade, he was leading his own band and eventually notched 10 singles that hit the Billboard R&B charts. By far his biggest success was “Willie and the Hand Jive,” which crossed over to reach No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In the ’50s, Otis was a DJ at KFOX-AM Los Angeles and later hosted his own local television show. He eventually had a weekly program on California’s Pacifica Radio Network, which he kept up until 2005.
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Otis branched out further in the mid-’70s, opening the nondenominational Landmark Community Church in L.A. and serving as its pastor for a decade.
He is survived by his wife of 70 years, Phyllis; musician sons Nicky and Shuggie, the latter of whom wrote “Strawberry Letter 23,” a top 5 pop hit for the Brothers Johnson in 1977; daughters Janet and Laura; and several grandchildren.
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