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Upside Your Head!
Rhythm and Blues on Central Avenue
Johnny Otis; George Lipsitz, intro.


1993 • 212 pp. 78 illus. Fig. 6 x 9"
Music / African-American Studies

$19.95 Paperback, 978-0-8195-6287-6

“As his memoir demonstrates, Otis was an important (and largely unheralded) pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll . . . His wonderful evocations of L.A.’s rock ‘n’ roll world and the 80-odd pictures documenting it make the book required reading for anyone interested in rock’s history.”—Village Voice

An intriguing memoir by the legendary bandleader.

Legendary jazzman Johnny Otis has spent a lifetime at the center of L.A.'s black music scene as a composer, performer, producer, d.j., activist, and preacher. His energetic, anecdotal memoir, Upside Your Head! Rhythm and Blues on Central Avenue, recalls the music, the great performers, and the vibrant culture of the district, as well as the political and social forces -- including virulent white racism -- that have shaped black life in Los Angeles. Resonating with anger, poignancy, joy, and defiance, Upside Your Head! is a unique document of the African-American musical and cultural experience.

Upside Your Head! recalls a 50-year career when it seems Otis either encountered, discovered, or performed with every significant figure in the early days of rhythm & blues and rock 'n' roll, including Count Basie, Esther Phillips, T-Bone Walker, Big Mama Thornton, and Lester Young. Drawing on dozens of vignettes, personal photographs, and hours of taped interviews from the popular "Johnny Otis Show," Upside Your Head! offers a moving tribute to the black community that gave birth to L.A.'s rhythm and blues. His stories celebrate the true roots in black culture of a distinctive American music while lamenting its eventual appropriation by the dominant white society.

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Reviews / Endorsements

“Music legend Otis’s lifelong activism spans music, religion, politics, and business. This mix of music, culture, and race politics is a bold and risky attempt to rattle white America’s conscience . . . Of interest to to music and social historians as well as lay readers.”Library Journal

“An educational, entertaining, and frequently thought-provoking book . . . it is a pleasure to see what Otis has done in the decades since he disappeared from the charts and to find that his writing has much of the same exuberance that he always showed in his music.”Boston Globe

“Musician, painter, sculptor and preacher Otis is an angry and eloquent man who writes from the unique viewpoint of a white man who has been immersed in African American culture and music since childhood . . . this is a wake-up call for white America.”Publishers Weekly

“To a lively, generously illustrated account of black music in Los Angeles, its author adds a grievous counterpoint of outrage at the causes of so much racial disharmony within that city.” Stanley Dance, author of The World of Count Basie

Upside Your Head! Serves as witness and testimonial to the endurance of black cultural imagination and community. Most of all the wisdom, passion, wit, anger, and insight which punctuates Otis’ testimony gives the book a sense of urgency and relevance to present day social and cultural conditions.”Herman Gray, author of Producing Jazz

Born in Berkeley, California, to a Greek immigrant family, JOHNNY OTIS grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood and developed a passionate commitment to the culture and music of African-Americans. He became a professional musician and went on to become a successful performer, composer, record producer, and talent scout. Otis wrote and performed the rock and roll hit “Willie and the Hand Jive,” played with such greats as Charlie Parker, Count Basie, and Lester Young, and discovered and promoted such stars as Little Esther Phillips and Big Mama Thornton. An author, sculptor, and painter as well, Otis continues t tour and perform regularly.

Mon, 18 Jun 2018 11:53:58 -0500