A few words to remember Otis Clay
We lost a true soul legend yesterday when Otis Clay passed. Otis wasn't born in Chicago, but he made this city his home. Like the great Sam Cooke he grew up singing in the church, found success with a gospel group, and eventually crossed over to secular soul music. His records for One-derful! and Hi Records (home to legends like Al Green, Ann Peebles, and Syl Johnson) captured some of the deepest, most soulful music ever made. These weren't throwaway lyrics with good grooves. Otis' music had meaning.
TRN opened for Otis a few times, and it was like going to school in so, so many ways. It all started with the soundcheck. As most audience members know, vocal soundchecks are rife with "1...2...check...check," occasional feedback, and lots of hurry up and wait. But not with Otis. He strolled right up to the mic, cued the band, closed his eyes, and sang his heart out. It was so pure and soulful, intense and immediate. It didn't seem to matter that it was mid-afternoon in an empty club. Otis was performing anytime he was onstage. That first show (8/6/10 at Southpaw in Brooklyn, NY) was something else. The Revelations backed him up effortlessly, and Otis brought the intensity. But it wasn't about up-tempo tunes. Otis captivated the audience with his slow jams, his mid-song sermons, and his control of the band. A quick movement brought everything down. A wave of the arm made a simmering groove take off. Otis owned that stage and everything around him. Here's a clip from that show:
He was kind and generous. I was no one to him, but he made me feel like a member of the soul music community. He complimented one of our tunes. He took the time to chat and remembered me over the years. What a gentle and sweet man.
The academic in me often thought about interviewing Otis for the TRN blog, or even writing a biography of sorts. I regret that I never did that while he was with us. I'm sure that Otis would have been into the idea and generous with his time. Rest easy, Mr. Clay. You will be missed.