BIOGRAPHY AND DISCOGRAPHY

 

One of the many who took vocal duties in Johnny Otis’s early 1950’s band, perhaps the least celebrated but whose enthusiasm on uptempo sides provided the necessary balance to the more diverse output of the rest of the singers in the show.

Born Floyd Hollis in 1922, the younger brother of minor blues star Jimmy Nelson whose “T-99” was a number one hit in 1951, Floyd actually beat his older sibling to the spotlight when he was hired as the emcee for Otis’s Barrelhouse Club in Watts in 1948. His job was to basically keep the show moving, which meant making introductions, telling jokes and taking part in short comedy skits, as well as occasionally singing… usually something that would get a stagnant crowd jumping.

When Otis’s entire outfit was signed to Savoy Records at the tail end of 1949 Hollis was drafted to sing on records as well, his first single using the name Leon Sims before quickly adopting the more humorous Redd Lyte moniker.

His vocals were marked by their full-throated exuberance, a good sense of dynamics and an intuitive feel for working with the familiar band behind him. The songs may have been more generic in nature than the material for the other vocalists who had greater technical skills, but his role on record was essentially the same as it had been on stage – to serve up something different and remind listeners that Otis’s crew was just as potent on dance numbers as they were sly double entendre songs and aching bluesy ballads.

As the hits began piling up for Otis in 1950, most with Little Esther, Mel Walker or The Robins taking the lead, Lyte’s role began to diminish though he remained with the band on the road even as his recording opportunities ended.

Lyte died in 1984 at the age of 62.
 

REDD LYTE DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

AIN’T NOTHIN’ SHAKIN’
(Savoy 731; January, 1950)
As Leon Sims… A rough edged vocal is just one part of the equation of this muscular song as Otis expertly streamlines the arrangement, letting his musicians take judicious solos that perfectly epitomizes rock’s attitude going forward. (7)

LITTLE RED HEN
(Regent 1017; February, 1950)
Lyte’s boundless enthusiasm goes a long way in recreating a jumping live atmosphere over some good churning performances by the band early on but the spell is broken when neither the sax solo nor the coda ramp things up enough and as a result it leaves you wanting more. (6)

GOING TO SEE MY BABY
(Regent 1017; February, 1950)
Though the sentiments he’s expressing don’t exactly match his dejected delivery, Lyte still manages to sell this fairly well, aided immeasurably by Pete Lewis on guitar making this change of pace offering a serviceable B-side. (5)