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.

The “facts” surrounding his identity are about as confusing as they come. It was reported that he was born Floyd Hollis and was the younger brother of minor blues star Jimmy Nelson whose “T-99” was a number one hit in 1951, but one (or both) of those statements aren’t true. Hired by Johnny Otis to be the emcee for his 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 and his entire outfit was signed by Savoy Records in late 1949 Johnny was looking for different types of voices to carry certain songs and drafted his emcee into handling some, putting out his first effort as by Leon Sims which probably was his actual name, though proof is still pending. Immediately after that however Sims adopted the more humorous Redd Lyte moniker under which he’d forever be known.

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.

If Leon Sims was indeed his name then he was another of the Otis retinue to die young, passing away in the early 1960’s.
 

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)

GOOD TIME BLUES
(Regent 1021; July, 1950)
Though noteworthy for his hell-bent enthusiasm on the track, Lyte offers little other than unbridled energy on a song that is mostly devoid of humor or plot and as a result it winds up more exhausting than entertaining. (3)