An integral member of the non-pareil Muddy Waters band of the 1950s and 1960s, pianist Otis Spann took his sweet time in launching a full-fledged solo career. But his own discography is a satisfying one nonetheless, offering ample proof as to why so many aficionados considered him then and now as Chicago's leading postwar blues pianist. Spann played on most of Waters' classic Chess waxings between 1953 and 1969, his rippling 88s providing the drive on Waters's seminal 1960 live version of "Got My Mojo Working" (cut at the prestigious Newport Jazz Festival, where Spann dazzled the assembled throng with some sensational storming boogies). The Mississippi native began playing piano by age eight, influenced by local ivories stalwart Friday Ford. At 14, he was playing in bands around Jackson, finding more inspiration in the 78s of Big Maceo, who took the young pianist under his wing once Spann migrated to Chicago in 1946 or 1947. Spann gigged on his own and with guitarist Morris Pejoe before hooking up with Waters in 1952. His first Chess date behind the Chicago icon the next year produced "Blow Wind Blow." Subsequent Waters classics sporting Spann's ivories include "Hoochie Coochie Man," "I'm Ready," and "Just Make Love to Me." Strangely, Chess somehow failed to recognize Spann's vocal abilities. His own Chess output was limited to a 1954 single, "It Must Have Been the Devil," that featured B.B. King on guitar, and sessions in 1956 and 1963 that remained in the can for decades. So Spann looked elsewhere, waxing a stunning album for Candid with guitarist Robert Jr. Lockwood in 1960, a largely solo outing for Storyville in 1963 that was cut in Copenhagen, a set for British Decca the following year that found him in the company of Waters and Eric Clapton, and a 1964 LP for Prestige where Spann shared vocal duties with bandmate James Cotton. Testament and Vanguard both recorded Spann as a leader in 1965. The Blues Is Where It's At, Spann's enduring 1966 album for ABC-Bluesway, sounded like a live recording but was actually a studio date enlivened by a gaggle of enthusiastic onlookers that applauded every song (Waters, guitarist Sammy Lawhorn, and George "Harmonica" Smith were among the support crew on the date). A Bluesway encore, The Bottom of the Blues followed in 1967 and featured Otis's wife, Lucille Spann, helping out on vocals. Spann's last few years with Muddy Waters were memorable for their collaboration on the Chess set Fathers and Sons, but the pianist was clearly ready to launch a solo career, recording a set for Blue Horizon with British blues-rockers Fleetwood Mac that produced Spann's laidback "Hungry Country Girl." He finally turned the piano chair in the Waters band over to Pinetop Perkins in 1969, but fate didn't grant Spann long to achieve solo stardom. He was stricken with cancer and died in April of 1970.
— Bill Dahl , All Music Guide
Muddy Waters called "Little Brother" and was his half-brother. Muddy said of him, the best "real solid bottom blues" player of his day. Only a piece of plywood marked his grave until June 6, 1999 when a gravestone was finally installed thanks to funds raised by readers of 'Blues Revue' Magazine.
I first got hip to Otis Spann when he was backed up by my 60's British Blues heros....Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac on the great LP "The Biggest Thing Since Colossus" on Mike Vernon's Blue Horizon Record label.....
- Mickster , Jungle Records
Check out Otis' 1st Solo record on the Checker label from 1954 with B.B.King & Robert Lockwood on guitars & Muddy Waters on bass!! Although he re-recorded this song up to his death in 1970, this is the definitive recording IMHO! I'll never forget the day I found this 78rpm in my buddy Mystic Mark Martucci's basement along with a Little Walter 78 just waiting for a new home.....when my eyes popped open and drool was dripping on these slabs of shellac Mysto's comment was....."I guess they're going home with you...."
Thank you bro!
Otis Spann It Must Have Been The Devil