MERCURY 8273; MARCH 1952



Chapter Two of Johnny Otis’s wilderness years continues with another instrumental, one with absolutely zero chance of becoming a legitimate hit, let alone shaping rock as it continued to evolve well past what he himself had helped to establish along the way.

Unlike the top half which at least had the rolling rhythms suitable for creating the proper atmosphere at a party, this one – well played and effectively conceived as a piece of music though it may be – had even less appeal in that setting.

All of which leads you to wonder if just a few short months into his deal with Mercury if Otis and the label suddenly realized that as promising as their pairing might have seemed to each of them when they first met, maybe it would’ve been far better to have a meaningless one night stand together rather than try and forge a lasting relationship in the bargain.


The Mercury Dropping
We’ll save your time and our space by simply referring you back to the previous review for the reasons why Otis’s move to Mercury was such a bad idea.

But if you don’t want to take the time we’ll tell you that it’s not even necessary to study it in detail to realize with just a casual glance that this overreliance on instrumentals indicated he was shorn of any suitable vocalists to give him a better shot at scoring hits.

That this effort was even LESS commercial than the more diverse medium tempo instrumental found on the top side, Goomp Blues – a nonsensical title suitable for the nonsensical decision to jump to Mercury in the first place – which not only assured Otis of being oh-for-two when it came to his Mercury releases (let’s not forget his run-of-the-mill debut from January Oopy-Doo) but also had to sour relations between him and the company as they expected records that would enable them to break into the rock field in a big way.

Instead they were now getting downcast cuts like One Nighter Blues, with a strong guitar part more suited for the blues, yet with horn parts more in line with after hours jazz, all of which was aimed at rock fans who were sure to be confused by what they were getting.

But it’s safe to say not half as confused as the President of Mercury Records who had to be asking his staff… “Why the hell did we sign THIS guy?” in the first place.


A Night That Never Ends
To be fair, this record more or less succeeds at what it tries to do. It’s just that what it tries to do isn’t worth doing, at least not if Johnny Otis still envisioned himself as a viable member of the rock community.

We know that his musical interests were diverse. A big-band jazz devotee who transitioned to the slimmed down bands ideal for rock ‘n’ roll with a dexterity that was admirable, yet someone who also appreciated gutbucket blues and nightclub jazz and had the musicians within his outfit to give him all of those things, often within the same song.

But while that diversity could get you hired to play at a ballroom or club where you’d have to be able to run the gamut of styles that might be requested in the course of an evening, not all of those sounds had the same marketable appeal on a two or three minute record.

One Nighter Blues seems to focus on those sounds which fell short in that vital area and combines them, hopefully to get them out of the way entirely for his next session.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, what’s here is well played as you’d expect from his first-rate musicians and if it was just Johnny throwing them a bone and letting them indulge in some styles they preferred… well, that was fine, provided you had the leeway to do so with a string of hits under your belt.

He had that of course, but the beneficiary of those hits was Savoy, not Mercury, and so this would’ve been better kept under wraps until he’d proven to them he was still a hitmaker. This however is no hit in the making with moaning horns suddenly attacked by Pete Lewis’s stinging guitar with Johnny’s vibes acting as the medic called upon to try and stem the bleeding.

Ben Webster’s sax that follows is so alien to what we heard from Lewis that you think somebody changed the station on you. It’s mellow cocktail hour music, far from rock and even far from his normal jazz approach to be honest, pleasant and sterile as it is.

Things improve slightly when the intensity gets ratcheted up briefly but even so it never strays too far from the classier mentality that defined it early on. Lewis’s return for a scalding solo two thirds of the way through raises hair on the back of your neck but doesn’t add much clarity to what we’ve heard so far.

The two instruments don’t clash per say, there’s enough space between them to keep them from intruding on the other, but they also don’t compliment one another at all, unlike on the other side where they existed on the same plane, and so whichever you prefer the other is just getting in the way and not allowing you to hear either of them uninterrupted long enough to win you over.

Truthfully though, even if one of them sat out altogether the song is far too aimless and devoid of any melodic hooks to make a better impression.

If you want to be kind you could say this record proves that Lewis could’ve sat in for B.B. King if B.B. had gotten his hand shot full of b.b.’s before a session and was unable to play, and Webster obviously could have stepped in for Earl Bostic on stage if Earl had chapped lips or a cold sore maybe, but since this music is for Johnny Otis fans it also proves that Johnny was floundering in the dark, unsure of where to take things.


When Morning Comes
One other change that’s worth noting here is that while on Savoy for much of the last two years, Otis had enough different acts all releasing records to allow these occasional stillborn experiments of his to pass largely unnoticed.

In other words, here on Mercury there was only Johnny Otis singles on the slate, spaced well apart, meaning something like One Nighter Blues was all you were getting from him for awhile.

On Savoy you’d have had a Little Esther led single followed by a Junior Ryder or Mel Walker effort, maybe an instrumental with Dee Williams’ piano out front, or the horns or Lewis’s guitar, and because they were coming out one after another, sometimes on the Regent subsidiary so as to keep them separate, the less commercial offerings were almost like bonus tracks for the fan club members rather than what was determining his overall fate.

But on Mercury this was all we were getting for the time being and while it’s a testament to the quality of his musicians, frankly it was also a testament to his losing touch with the field he was being asked to satisfy and so this kind of thing just isn’t going to cut it any longer.


(Visit the Artist page of Johnny Otis for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)