It has been widely reported that Otis Blackwell penned songs that sold over 185 million records. Even in today's overly inflationary environment the figure seems staggering.
Otis wrote songs like no one else. He pulled the artists who recorded them toward him not the other way around. His songs are as distinctive as Phil Spector's productions and less predictable than the Lieber and Stoller classics. Quite simply his best songs are about youthful explosive sexual images. Elvis Presley sounded like Otis. Otis was a black northerner reaching toward country music while Elvis was a white southerner reaching for three separate, black music art forms. When these two were coupled on vinyl the world literally shook.
Otis was a talented record producer and had a keen eye for talent. His classic recording of "Don't Let Go" with Roy Hamilton also Jimmy Jones on "Handyman" and "Good Timin" are the most successful examples. He was the first to record Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons and Johnny Rivers. I once asked him what he considered his greatest accomplishment, "Producing a Mahaila Jackson Album."
What kind of person was Otis? Complex. Small in stature but hugely funny. Haunted by fire breathing demons he attempted to excise through alcohol. Obviously there were several campfires of dispair burning in his soul. Through I was a close friend, I do not claim to be able to dissect the different sources of hurt. They were real to him, emotional rather than chemical, personal rather than racial. He saw the world in fairly real terms. What he was unable to do at least in his younger years, was to comfortably fit in without inner pain. Much of his problems had to do with the IRS and so called professionals who made his life a mess