Otis Spann

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Otis Spann
Otis Spann.jpg
Background information
Born (1930-03-21)March 21, 1930
Belzoni or Jackson, Mississippi, United States
Died April 24, 1970(1970-04-24)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Genres Chicago blues[1]
Occupation(s) Vocalist
Instruments Vocals, piano
Years active 1944–1970
Labels Decca, Chess, Storyville, Bluesway, Vanguard, CBS/Blue Horizon
Associated acts Muddy Waters

Otis Spann (March 21, 1924[2] or 1930 – April 24, 1970)[3] was an American blues musician, whom many consider to be the leading postwar Chicago blues pianist.[1][4]

Early life[edit]

Sources differ over Spann's early years. Many sources state that he was born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1930,[5][6] but researchers Bob Eagle and Eric LeBlanc conclude, on the basis of census and other official information, that he was born in 1924, in Belzoni, Mississippi.[2]

Spann's father was, according to some sources, a pianist called Friday Ford. His mother, Josephine Erby, was a guitarist who had worked with Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith, and his stepfather, Frank Houston Spann, was a preacher and musician. One of five children, Spann began playing the piano at the age of seven, with some instruction from Friday Ford, Frank Spann, and Little Brother Montgomery.[7]


By the age of 14, he was playing in bands in the Jackson area. He moved to Chicago in 1946, where he was mentored by Big Maceo Merriweather. Spann performed as a solo act and with the guitarist Morris Pejoe, working a regular spot at the Tic Toc Lounge.[3] Spann became known for his distinctive piano style. He replaced Merriweather as Muddy Waters's piano player in late 1952, and participated in his first recording session with the band on September 24, 1953.[8] He continued to record as a solo artist and session player with other musicians, including Bo Diddley and Howlin' Wolf, during his tenure with the group. He stayed with Waters until 1968.[9]

Spann's work for Chess Records includes the 1954 single "It Must Have Been the Devil" / "Five Spot", with B.B. King and Jody Williams on guitars. During his time at Chess he played on a few of Chuck Berry's early records, including the studio version of "You Can't Catch Me". In 1956, he recorded two unreleased tracks with Big Walter Horton and Robert Lockwood.[10] He recorded a session with the guitarist Robert Lockwood, Jr. and vocalist St. Louis Jimmy in New York on August 23, 1960, which was issued on Otis Spann Is the Blues and Walking the Blues. A 1963 effort with Storyville Records was recorded in Copenhagen. He worked with Waters and Eric Clapton on recordings for Decca[11] and with James Cotton for Prestige in 1964.

The Blues Is Where It's At, Spann's 1966 album for ABC-Bluesway, includes contributions from George "Harmonica" Smith, Waters, and Sammy Lawhorn. The Bottom of the Blues (1967), featuring Spann's wife, Lucille Spann (June 23, 1938 – August 2, 1994),[12] was released by Bluesway. He worked on albums with Buddy Guy, Big Mama Thornton, Peter Green, and Fleetwood Mac in the late 1960s.

Material featuring Spann on DVD includes the Newport Jazz Festival (1960), the American Folk Blues Festival (1963), the Blues Masters (1966), and the Copenhagen Jazz Festival (1968).


Spann died of liver cancer in Chicago in 1970. He was buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery, in Alsip, Illinois. His grave was unmarked for almost thirty years, until Steve Salter (president of the Killer Blues Headstone Project) wrote a letter to Blues Revue magazine, saying "This piano great is lying in an unmarked grave. Let's do something about this deplorable situation". Blues enthusiasts from around the world sent donations to purchase a headstone. On June 6, 1999, the marker was unveiled in a private ceremony. The stone reads, "Otis played the deepest blues we ever heard – He'll play forever in our hearts".


In 1972, the site of the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival was named "Otis Spann Memorial Field".[13]

He was posthumously elected to the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980.



  • Otis Spann Is the Blues (Candid, 1960)
  • Good Morning Mr. Blues (1963)
  • The Blues of Otis Spann (Decca, 1964)
  • The Blues Never Die! (Prestige, 1965)
  • Chicago/The Blues/Today! Vol.1 (Vanguard, 1966)
  • Otis Spann's Chicago Blues (Testament, 1966)
  • The Blues Is Where It's At (Bluesway, 1966)
  • Nobody Knows My Troubles (Bounty, 1967)
  • The Bottom of the Blues (Bluesway, 1968)
  • Cracked Spanner Head (1969)
  • The Biggest Thing Since Colossus (Blue Horizon, 1969)
  • The Everlasting Blues vs. Otis Spann (1969)
  • Up in the Queen's Pad (1969)
  • Sweet Giant of the Blues (BluesTime, 1969)
  • Cryin' Time (Vanguard, recorded 1968, released 1970)
  • Walking the Blues (Candid, recorded 1960, released 1972)
  • Heart Loaded with Trouble (1973)
  • Otis Rides Again (Piccadilly #3488, 1980)
  • Last Call: Live at Boston Tea Party (recorded 1970, released 2000)
  • I Wanna Go Home (recorded 1964–69, released 2003)
  • Complete Blue Horizon Sessions (recorded 1969, released 2006)
  • Someday... (recorded 1967, released 2012)

With other artists[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music. Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 181. ISBN 1-904041-96-5. 
  2. ^ a b Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues - A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. p. 195. ISBN 978-0313344237. 
  3. ^ a b Doc Rock. "The 1970s". The Dead Rock Stars Club. Retrieved 2015-10-06. 
  4. ^ Bill Dahl. "Otis Spann | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-05-29. 
  5. ^ "Otis Spann", Encyclopedia.com, Retrieved 13 October 2016
  6. ^ David Dicaire, Blues Singers: Biographies of 50 Legendary Artists of the Early 20th Century, McFarland, 1999, p.119
  7. ^ Harris, S. (1981). Blues Who's Who. New York: Da Capo Press. pp. 477–479. ISBN 978-0306801556.
  8. ^ "Otis Spann". LivinBlues. 1953-09-24. Retrieved 2014-05-29. 
  9. ^ Russell, Tony (1997). The Blues: From Robert Johnson to Robert Cray. Dubai: Carlton Books. p. 168. ISBN 1-85868-255-X. 
  10. ^ Leadbitter, M., Fancourt, L. and Pelletier, P. (1994). Blues Records 1943–1970, vol. 2. London: Record Information Services.
  11. ^ Roberty, Marc (1993). Eric Clapton: The Complete Recording Sessions 1963–1995. New York: St. Martin’s Press. p. 16.
  12. ^ Doc Rock. "New Entries". The Dead Rock Stars Club. Retrieved 2014-05-29. 
  13. ^ "Otis Spann Memorial Field - Ann Arbor". LocalWiki. 2011-02-18. Retrieved 2015-10-06. 

External links[edit]