Otis Spann Biography

21 March 1930, Jackson, Mississippi, USA, d. 24 April 1970, Chicago, Illinois, USA. One of the finest pianists of post-war blues, Spann learned the instrument as a child. He initially played in his stepfather’s church, but by the age of 14 was a member of a small local group. Having pursued careers in football and boxing, Spann moved to Chicago where he returned to music through work with several established attractions, including Memphis Slim and Roosevelt Sykes, before fronting the house band at the city’s Tick Tock club. In 1952 the pianist made his first recordings with Muddy Waters and the following year he became a permanent member of this seminal artist’s group, with whom he remained for most of his professional life. Spann did complete a solo session in 1955 with the assistance of Willie Dixon and Robert Lockwood, but session appearances for Bo Diddley and Howlin’ Wolf apart, he is recalled for the subtle yet complementary support he contributed to Waters’ music. Spann supported the singer on his groundbreaking UK tour of 1958 and was an integral part of the group that appeared at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival. He subsequently completed an album for the Candid label, before resuming his association with Waters with a series of successful tours. British concerts during 1963 and 1964 proved highly influential on the emergent R&B scene and on the second visit Spann recorded two tracks, ‘Pretty Girls Everywhere’ and ‘Stirs Me Up’, with Yardbirds guitarist Eric Clapton.

Spann began a thriving solo career on returning to the USA, completing a series of albums for several different labels, including Prestige and Bluesway. These releases not only showcased his remarkable talent on piano, they also revealed a skilled composer and vocalist and featured sterling support from such contemporaries as Waters, James Cotton (harmonica) and S.P. Leary (drums). The latter also appeared on The Biggest Thing Since Colossus, Spann’s collaboration with Fleetwood Mac stalwarts Peter Green, Danny Kirwan and John McVie. Barring contributions to a session by Junior Wells and the movie Blues Like Showers Of Rain, this excellent set was the artist’s last significant work. Increasingly debilitated by illness, Otis Spann entered Chicago’s Cook County Hospital, where he died of cancer in 1970.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.