The Johnny Otis Show - The Watts Breakaway
Shuggie, Johnny & Delmar
Hey hey hey... It’s Wednesday. I can’t say a whole lot more about it. Despite the dubious institution of “hump day”, I can’t really get behind Wednesday as a siginifier of optimistic “glass-half-fullness”, in as much as it’s supposed to signify that our Sisyphus-ian efforts have not been for naught, and it should be all downhill from here. Baloney, I say. To paraphrase the great malapropist Yogi Berra, It ain’t Friday until it’s Friday. I think that secretly, way back in our minds, despite any hope we have that we’ve crossed a line of sorts and the sailing is going to be smoother from here on out, we all realize that this is true, and are dreading what Thursday and Friday have in store. Well my friends, I’m here to make it all better. I promised that I had some heaters in the on deck circle, and I wasn’t lying. As I sit here, listening to Roger and the Gypsies “Pass the Hatchet” – the very definition of “heater” – I know that even when you’re floating in a mid-week Sargasso Sea of deskbound bullshit, the right record can/will snap your head back, open your eyes and put a little glide in your stride Clyde. So, in the spirit of all things musically uplifting, I bring you today’s selection, a later entry from the Johnny Otis Show entitled ‘The Watts Breakaway’. For those that don’t know Johnny Otis was (and is) one of the true legends of West Coast R&B, getting his start in the 40’s and producing high quality material under his own name and for others (like his son Shuggie Otis and Preston Love) ever since. Starting his career as a drummer for Harlan Leonard’s Rockets, he assembled his own orchestra and started recording in the mid-40’s. He went on to discover Little Esther Phillips, Jackie Wilson, Little Willie John and Hank Ballard among others. He scored a number of R&B hits in the 50’s, but had his first big success with ‘Willie & The Hand Jive’ in 1958. He continued to record (and produce, and discover, and do a TV show and a whole lot of other stuff) through the 60’s, and as times changed, the sounds coming out of the Otis stable changed as well. Shuggie Otis, only a teenager at the time was turning into a hot guitarist, and vocalist Delmar “Mighty Mouth” Evans had joined the Johnny Otis Show. Things were taking a turn for the funky. Perhaps the greatest example of this turn was 1970’s ‘The Watts Breakaway’. Written by Otis, and sung by Evans, ‘The Watts Breakaway’ is a super-funky, break-laden affair. Opening with a demented sounding bass riff, things soon get mighty clean, with a sharp horn section. Evans’ vocals are on-point, with the occasional interjection from Johnny, and some hot lead guitar from Shuggie. Sly & The Family Stone get namechecked too. As I said, the breaks are heavy, and despite a diggers wish for “clean” breaks, I really dig the way Delmar drops in with his UHNN’s, AHHH’s and what-not. I also really like when Johnny comes in near the end and asks
Watts....Breakaway....dance...as good as you can?”
Delmar: “Because I am the jumpingest, dodge-ingest,
dancing-est cat you ever knew!?
That’s solid! Evans, who appeared on a number of late 60’s/early 70’s Otis projects (including ‘Live at Monterey’ and ‘Snatch & The Poontangs’) , continued his career singing with the Johnny Otis Sgow well into the 80’s. ‘The Watts Breakaway’ has been comped (along with a bunch of Otis-related funk, including the Vibrettes 'Humpty Dump' - often misattributed to Eddie Bo ) on 'Watts Funky' (see below) .