One of the most amazing things about Greeks, is that they show up in the unlikeliest of places, like the Rhythm & Blues, and the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. Johnny Otis or Ioannis Veliotes was born to Greek parents and grew up in a predominately Black neighborhood in Berkley California where his father owned a grocery store. He was the most prominent white man in Black R& B. Otis is an accomplished pianist, disk jockey, vibraphonist, drummer, songwriter, composer, singer, band leader, nightclub owner, politician, journalist, impresario, painter & sculptor and in his spare time he has written a few books. During the Big Band era his band produced one of the era's most enduring hits, called "Harlem Nocturne." He later opened a nightclub in Los Angeles and discovered numerous talents including Mel Walker, Little Esther, Willie Mae "Big Momma" Thornton, Sugar Pie DeSanto, The Mid-nighters, The Coasters, Big Jay McNeely, Etta James, Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard and Little Willie John. Otis wrote "Every Beat of My Heart" which Gladys Knight & the Pips turned into a classic hit and "Willie and Hand Jive" which sold 1.5 million copies as well many, many other hits.
This from www.history-of-rock.com : "His stage shows were something else. They would open with him doing a solo on the drums and vibes that would last ten minutes before the rest of the band would come on stage. There were always a female vocalists that could really sing out the blues. They would then be followed by a male vocalist who was smooth with the ballads. The show climaxed with a vocal group followed by a number or two by the Otis band with Otis frantically switching back and forth from the drums and vibes. All the while his dark Greek complexion led most in the audience to believe he was black."
In the 1960's he ran for a seat on the California State Assembly but lost, some say, because he used his real name. Johnny later served as Deputy Chief of Staff to Mervin Dymally, whose career he followed from the State Assembly, State Senate, Lieutenant Governorship of California, to the U.S. Congress. His first book "Listen To The Lambs", which addressed the 1965 race riots was published in 1968. His next book, "Upside Your Head! Rhythm & Blues on Central Avenue" was published in 1993. Many of his paintings, sculptures, and wood carvings are displayed in "Colors and Chords - The Art of Johnny Otis" which was published in 1995. His most recent book, "Johnny Otis - Red Beans & Rice and Other Rock n Roll Recipes" was published in 1997. His son, Shuggie Otis, a talented musician and recording artist in his own right was offered a position in the Rolling Stones Band as a guitarist, which he turned down. Johnny has remained active in his recording studio and has put out 6 CD's on his label since the mid-nineties.
Few people have given as much to Rhythm & Blues music as Johnny Otis. Although some of his work was familiar to me, I had no idea that Otis was a Greek-American, until recently. Bravo re Yannaki. You make me proud and who says white men ain't got rhythm?