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Midnight at the Barrelhouse: The Johnny Otis Story Hardcover – March 3, 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press; First Edition edition (March 3, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816666784
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816666782
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,489,439 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

To Otis’ autobiographies Listen to the Lambs (1968) and Upside Your Head (1993) and Lee Hildebrand’s book about Otis’ paintings, Colors and Chords (1995), Lipsitz adds the first full biography of the Greek American bandleader and musician who spent most of his life in the African American community. As much as or even more than Elvis Presley, Otis brought black music to the mainstream audience with his integrated revues, his groundbreaking (if stolen from Bo Diddley, beat-wise) 1958 hit “Willie and the Hand Jive,” and his long-running radio show. He headed a strong live-music aggregation that specialized in R&B and gospel and featured many of the singers Otis discovered, foremost among them Little Esther Phillips, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, and Otis’ son Shuggie, a 1960s guitar hero supreme. Otis was also an accomplished producer, recording hits by Etta James (“Roll with Me, Henry”), Big Mama Thornton (“Hound Dog,” later covered by Elvis), and many more. Long-overdue recognition and appreciation of one of the founders of rock music. --Mike Tribby


"Johnny Otis—he’s the coolest! A true pioneer of the music I love." —Aaron Neville

"We are lucky to have Johnny Otis, as the world is short on smart, soulful, funny, gifted, walk-the-walk folk. Bless his heart." —Joan Baez

"Johnny Otis is one of the most important figures in the history of R&B and rock and roll. Through mentoring and showcasing so many brilliant stars in his legendary live revues and incredible bands; his contributions as writer, player, and producer of so many seminal recordings; and his decades of hosting his beloved West Coast radio show, his legacy as professor emeritus of R&B will remain forever intact." —Bonnie Raitt

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Ted on April 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This thoughtfully written, carefully constructed and multi disciplinary work is the definitive biography of a 20th century musical polymath. An artist, visionary and activist whose contributions to American Music place him high among the ranks of our most important and treasured cultural innovators. Lipstiz chronicles Johnny Otis' more then 60 year career, showing how some of the greatest triumphs of that career were often played out behind the scenes, with Johnny as a producer, mentor and cultivator of other performers talents. He further portrays the life of John Otis as a "Life well lived" looking beyond his significant performing and recording achievements to documenting the community based activism, print, pulpit and broadcast punditry that Johnny's sensitivity and his sense of justice forced him to undertake, often at the expense of his own musical carer. The book rightfully extols Mr. Otis' work as a cultivator of new talent and an angry champion of those many forgotten and shamefully discarded (black) creators of american popular music.
Though this book is no mere biography. It is an examination of 20th Century American Society. A look at how culture, race and economy have been negotiated thru and transformed by, African Americans. In that way it is an analysis similar to the work of Ken Burns but orders of magnitude deeper, more thoughtful, less saccharin and more damming then Mr. Burns' work.
Midnight at the Barrelhouse will explain much to any american who asks, how did we get here, and it should be required reading for those many insular, self absorbed "artist" who populate todays "music industry"
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By kevnm VINE VOICE on June 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Midnight At The Barrelhouse is a fascinating look at a complex and talented man. Johnny Otis, born of Greek-American parents, was so enamored of black music and culture that he more or less "became" a black person. His concerns were those of the African-American community, his political consciousness was formed by his experience within that community, and his musical career in jazz and rhythm & blues saw him promote and contribute to a vital cultural heritage.

Otis spent his life promoting and celebrating Black culture and this book follows him through his career touring with jazz acts, acting as impresario to blues and r&b shows, discovering young talent, and promoting respect and equality. Stories of Los Angeles' Central Avenue scene, the clubs, the record companies and the touring bands all provide an opportunity to illustrate the racism that musicians, and all black people, faced in the period covered. Especially welcome are Professor Lipsitz's examinations of the social and economic trends that favored white acts, led to the disintigration of vital Black neighborhoods, and replaced thriving cultural centers with tv and suburbs.

If allowed a minor quibble, I might suggest that some of Otis's musical heroes who didn't receive national recognition were limited as much by their talent as by racism. The argument that racism held them back is difficult to sustain in the face of the sales and recognition achieved by Chuck Berry, Duke Ellington, James Brown, Otis Redding, Miles Davis and many more. That is certainly not to suggest that racism didn't hurt many careers, only that it wasn't the only possible explanation, as Otis and Lipsitz sometimes seem to suggest.

That's a minor point in an otherwise excellent look at the struggle, the oppression and the triumphs of the people and the music that Johnny Otis celebrated.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I knew the name "Johnny Otis" but I didn't know much about the person. After reading this book I feel like a slacker! Is there anything this man hasn't done?! He was a musician, a composer, a producer, a talent scout, a DJ, an activist, a painter, an author, a preacher, an all around entrepreneur, and a devoted family man. He seems like the kind of person that can get more done in one day that most can in a week!

Even more remarkable is that he accomplished all of this in a time of segregation, during which he deliberately picked a side. He explained this in one of his earlier books stating, "As a kid I decided that if our society dictated that one had to be black or white, I would be black." In this book it's written about him that, "Although considered to be a white man by the standards of a white supremacist society, Johnny Otis chose to become "Black by persuasion." His decision to embrace and inhabit an identity rooted in the collective, cumulative, and continuing struggles of Black people has enabled him to live a life replete with moral purpose and profound connection to others (p. 178)."

Throughout his life, Mr. Otis was at the beginning of several different cultural trends, as well as jumped in and added his energies to various existing movements. I appreciate all his music, the incredible performers he discovered and nurtured, and most of all I appreciate that he ". . . insisted on justice, love, and personal responsibility . . ." and that he ". . . believed in teaching by example, in treating other people right (p. 110)."

The book is an easy read and full of positive messages. To me, one of those messages was not about becoming rich and famous, but to follow your passions and give back along the way.

Mr. Otis has given our country so much and I hope someday he receives a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, a National Medal of Arts, and a Kennedy Center Honor!
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