by Michalis Limnios BLUES @ GREECE
“It’s amazing how artists and bands back in those days could hit on emotions and write music that brought people together.”
OTIS: Eyes Of Southern Blues
From the American South, Kentucky, comes a new group of southern blues rock champions, OTIS, who will be releasing their highly anticipated second album on Purple Pyramid Records on September 15th.
Executive Produced by Grammy winnning Blues/Rock guitar great Paul Nelson, who is best known for his work with the late Johnny Winter, OTIS’s “Eyes Of The Sun” takes blues rock to a higher level! Deep in South Central Kentucky authentic music is alive and well through native musicians who are still testifying to brothers and sisters all around the world. OTIS has taken in a steady diet of Roots, Blues, and Classic Rock and Roll, and created their own unique sound. OTIS draws from the raw electric sounds of Muddy Waters and stirs in a heavy influence of Southern sounds, courtesy of The Allman Brothers Band, Wet Willie, and more. This sums up what the sound of OTIS is musically and gives a glimpse into the sound and soul of the four-piece band.
Andrew Gilpin, drums; John Seeley, bass; Steve Jewell Jr., guitar & Boone Froggett, vocals/guitar
The members of OTIS consist of Boone Froggett vocals/guitar, Steve Jewell guitar, John Seeley bass, and Andrew Gilpin drums. The members of OTIS share the same vision of writing and creating organic music while taking their audience to church by hitting on all emotions. If a stage filled with vintage music gear and Blues flavored Rock and Roll music is something you enjoy, then it’s time to drink from the healing waters of OTIS! The OTIS electric Rock ‘n’ Roll revival is coming soon to a town near you! Boone Froggett and Steve Jewell talks about the Blues, Southern Boogie, and Rock n’ Roll culture.
Interview by Michael Limnios
Special Thanks: Photos by Kirk West, Billy James (Glass Onyon), Paul Nelson
How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
Boone: When I was in my late teens, I got turned on to two albums that completely changed my world. One being Johnny Winter’s “Progressive Blues Experiment”, the other being “Hooker ‘n Heat”. At that moment I became aware that it wasn’t enough just to listen to those records. I had to know the roots of where all that stuff came from. So naturally I dug deeper and listened harder and through books like Robert Palmer’s “Deep Blues” and a relationship I had formed with Kentucky Headhunter guitarist Greg Martin, I got a whole different education and view of the world that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Steve: There are a lot of great songs written over the years from Blues/Rock greats. A lot of well written songs and lyrics with amazing stories they tell in the song. One of the greatest albums ever recorded about loving someone is the album “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” by Derek and The Dominos. Or Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” with opening vocal line “If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you”. And you can always revert back to any Allman Brothers song for a positive and up lifting message. These types of songs are our favorite. And the world can never have too many “Come Together” songs. A lot of these songs and artists, and even artists from 60’s Soul Music and 50’s Blues era have had a very big impact on every aspect of our band. From our song writing, our vision, and even how we present and conduct ourselves. There is still hope and love in this world. I believe it every time I put on a Percy Sledge or Sam and Dave record.
How do you describe OTIS sound and songbook? What characterize band’s philosophy?
Boone: Otis is four guys in a room playing for our lives! To be a young band we really have an amazing chemistry. All of our songs are written live on the floor together and that’s what works for us. We’re also unique from our up bringing in Southern Culture. All four of us have basically grew up in the same area and experienced the same things together but individually have a different point of view.
What were the reasons that the band started the Southern Blues Rock researches? What is the story behind band’s name?
Steve: We are from the great state of Kentucky. So we’re in a great spot right in the middle of the Mississippi Delta and Chicago where a lot of Blues greats got their start at. There are all kinds of ties to the South when it comes to Music. So many legends from Blues, Soul Music, Bluegrass, Funk, and Rock and Roll are from the South. The South is one big melting pot of Roots music. So it’s always been around in our area, way before we were born. All four of us in our band got our start and are heavily influenced from our Fathers and family members from watching them play music as kids growing up.
Our band name was suggested to us from our good friend and mentor Greg Martin of The Kentucky HeadHunters.
“Otis is four guys in a room playing for our lives! To be a young band we really have an amazing chemistry. All of our songs are written live on the floor together and that’s what works for us. We’re also unique from our up bringing in Southern Culture.”
Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences for you? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Boone: As I mentioned before I’ve known Greg Martin from “The Kentucky Headhunters” since my teenage years. There’s absolutely no way I could’ve accomplished what I have without his guidance & wisdom. Greg’s helped the band and I out with everything from letting us use his 1958 Les Paul “Hank the Plank” in the studio to producing our first album. But most importantly he gave us some advice that’s really stuck with us “You can’t go wrong doing the right thing”.
Steve: We have been so fortunate to meet some of our heroes. Growing up, some of our heroes of course where The Kentucky HeadHunters. They are a Grammy Award winning Country/Rock band from our area and have done so much for our local music community. Becoming close friends with them over the years is a blessing.
Meeting Derek Trucks was a great experience for me. Tedeschi Trucks band played in our town 2 or 3 years ago and it was incredible. They came back out for an encore and played a few songs at the end of the show. After they hit their last note, Derek Trucks was walking off stage and pitched his guitar slide out to someone who was in the front row, and the guy threw it back at him! I couldn’t believe it. Even Derek seemed to be a little stunned. Our drummer Andrew Gilpin and I left the venue and were walking to our car and we turned a corner and there Derek Trucks stood with their bass player outside the venue. I went up to him and introduced myself. We talked about a few Blues greats we both liked, guitars, all that kind of stuff… at one moment I pulled a slide out of my pocket and showed Derek. I didn’t know much about the slide. I bought it from an old antique store and thought maybe Derek would know some information about it. Derek looked at it and started telling me all about my slide. At one moment Derek paused while he was talking, pulled his slide out of his pocket that the guy threw back at him from the crowd and he gave it to me. It was fate or meant to be haha. I tried giving my slide to Derek but he wouldn’t take it. He said my slide was a special old slide and I should keep it. Derek Trucks is a great guy.
We’ve met and played with Butch Trucks of the Allman Brothers Band before he died. Great guy. Amazing to watch on stage. We’ve meet Jaimoe Johanson of the Allman Brothers Band. Jaimoe got a copy of our first record and he couldn’t believe it was four young kids from Kentucky playing on it. He thought we were a bunch of old Black Blues guys! Thank you Jaimoe!
Meeting and working with Paul Nelson on our new album has been great. Paul of course played in Johnny Winter’s band the remaining years of Johnny’s career. We’re all big Johnny Winter fans. And us Johnny Winter fans can never thank Paul enough for everything he done for Johnny in the remaining years of Johnny’s life. Paul is a great guy, and a monster guitar player. Boone and I knew we had to be on our A game when Paul flew down to work with us in the studio for this new album!
As far as the best advice anyone has ever gave us, has to be from our good friend Greg Martin. He has taught us so much about music and what kind of person we should strive to be in the Music Business and outside of the Music Business. He has taught us to work hard, no short cuts, which goes along to the first bit of great advice I ever remember receiving from my Father. He told me that if you work hard and earn things yourself based on hard work, you will appreciate things more. Greg has always told us, “You can never go wrong with doing the right thing”. That has always stuck with us. Being honest and hardworking people is what we strive for.
Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
Boone: In 2016 we had the honor of playing GABBA Fest in Macon, GA. For those of you that don’t know, GABBA stands for (Georgia Allman Brothers Band Association). The artist at large that year was no other than founding member of “Wet Willie” Jimmy Hall. We had a relationship with Jimmy already so we knew that him sitting in with us would be something special. The highlight of the evening was Jimmy coming out and playing the Wet Willie classic “Jailhouse Moan” with us. It was a great moment for us and the audience that understood the importance of a young upcoming band having the opportunity to play with one of our mentors. Jimmy Hall is an absolute legend and one of my favorite people on planet earth.
Steve: My most cherished memories of playing music will always be playing music with my dad growing up. I owe him so much.
Having Jimmy Hall of Wet Willie play harmonica on our first album was incredible. Jimmy paid us such a huge compliment. In between takes in the studio, he was listening to our songs. He paused for a moment and told us, “I can’t believe how well you guys are playing this stuff. Not only are you playing it well, you’re getting it right!” Thank you Jimmy. You’re the best!
Boone and I had the pleasure of playing in The Kentucky HeadHunters for a few shows when our good friend Greg Martin hurt his hand. Greg was still out playing during those shows, but they brought Boone and me to play as well to help Greg out if his hand started to bother him. Boone and I took turns playing their songs during the shows. It was incredible to have a “on stage” seat to watch those guys do their thing. To witness their chemistry that they have and to play their songs WITH them that Boone and I grew up listening to and playing when we were kids was such a great experience! Thank you guys again!
“With that being said, there is a father son like lineage between the Blues and the Southern Rock movement. I think what ties it all together is the raw emotion and it is storytelling in a sense “Statesboro Blues” was originally recorded by Blind Willie McTell in 1928 and that song has continued to move and inspire people through Taj Mahal and The Allman Brothers for decades.”
What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
Boone: The whole process of making rock records has changed dramatically since the classic albums of the 60’s & 70’s. I think most would agree the classics like “Pet Sounds” or “Led Zeppelin I” hasn’t been surpassed yet. Which makes you think maybe the modern way of making an album isn’t working. In any case I think rock bands need to listen to the advice of Warren Haynes, lose the click track.
Steve: The stories. The honesty. The chemistry of bands. Not writing with ANY intention of chasing some crazy current trend in the music industry. They only intention they had when writing or performing a song was to write and perform from their hearts. The simplicity of playing, making and recording music. A wise man once said that all you need is three chords and the truth! It has always blew my mind growing up seeing guitarists like Paul Kossoff playing a Gibson Les Paul plugged straight into a Marshall stack, or Duane Allman. I’ve discovered it really makes you dig deep and study your guitar and amp more to make unique sounds that can’t be replicated through an effect peddle. Using a guitar pick verses using your fingers. Every guitarists touch is different. Pedals however are great for texture. It’s 2017 and Jimi Hendrix is still blowing people’s minds today with his playing ability and all the different sounds he got. You can never go wrong with writing from the heart. We need more timeless music wrote. I’m pretty sure they will still be playing Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” at wedding receptions 50 years from now! I don’t have any fears for the future. Right against Wrong has never lost. Great music will still be made from bands and artists.
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
Boone: I really wish more people would have a better understanding of roots music. It’s really impactful to know the origins of where and what you’re listening to comes from. It should be easier for the younger generation to get introduced to Muddy Waters or Chuck Berry, but it isn’t. That kind of music has to have a host in this day and age.
Steve: I would like to see Artists and Bands from all genres to have the freedom to fully express themselves musically and write music from their hearts and see that be fully supported and backed by the Music Industry. There are so many talented artists and bands with a story to tell.
What are the lines that connect the legacy of Southern Blues from Allman Brothers, Johnny Winter and Wet Willie to OTIS?
Boone: One of the things I really admire Johnny Winter for is that he was a link from Chicago Blues to the Southern Rock of the South. He sat in with “The Allman Brothers Band” at the Atlanta Pop Fest and he produced albums like “Hard Again” for Muddy Waters. I can’t think of any other artist in that era who was able to make that direct link. With that being said, there is a father son like lineage between the Blues and the Southern Rock movement. I think what ties it all together is the raw emotion and it is storytelling in a sense “Statesboro Blues” was originally recorded by Blind Willie McTell in 1928 and that song has continued to move and inspire people through Taj Mahal and The Allman Brothers for decades.
Steve: We grew up with those bands. We heard records from those bands from our parents growing up. Those bands are from the Southern States as well. That music is in our DNA. We have done our homework on Blues and Roots music just like those great bands done. We love those bands and respect them. We only want to be influenced by all those great bands we grew up with, not a copy. And we have spent a lot of time woodshedding and learning how to be influenced and not a copy. We just want to be us.
“The stories. The honesty. The chemistry of bands. Not writing with ANY intention of chasing some crazy current trend in the music industry. They only intention they had when writing or performing a song was to write and perform from their hearts. The simplicity of playing, making and recording music. A wise man once said that all you need is three chords and the truth!”
What is the impact of Blues and Southern Blues Rock on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?
Boone: We all know that Fame studio in Muscle Shoals, AL gave birth to some of the first interracial R&B records. But it also gave birth to one of the first interracial bands in the American south “The Allman Brothers Band”. I’ve heard a lot of people say that the Southern Rock movement started when Duane Allman played on Wilson Pickett’s “Hey Jude”. So really, from the very beginning the Rock’n’Soul of the south has been very progressive in taking down the social barriers. At the end of the day it’s really about the music.
Steve: Music has healing powers. Greats like Little Richard and Chuck Berry are prime examples of their music having healing powers. Their music brought everyone together under one roof. A lot of great bands like the Allman Brothers sing and minister through song about the power of love. It’s amazing how artists and bands back in those days could hit on emotions and write music that brought people together. That aspect of their music is one of the most appealing things to our band.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?
Boone: I’d go back to February, 1967 and see B.B. King play Bill Graham’s Filmore East. That was huge moment for Blues & Rock music as it marked the first time B.B. had a chance to perform for a white audience and change the perception of what Blues music was and who it was recorded for on a worldwide level.
Steve: Oh man, can I have two days?! I would love to go back and step in CHESS Records for a day and have the fear of god put in me when Howlin’ Wolf recorded songs like Smoke Stack Lighting. Or to hear Muddy Waters play slide guitar. Or to be in the same room as Muddy Waters and Johnny Winter as they recorded the “Hard Again” album. I’d also like to experience a concert in the 60’s of Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin. I want to go back in time and go to the show in 1971 and see Ray Charles perform with Aretha Franklin at The Fillmore West. I’d also want to see the original Allman Brothers Band with Duane Allman. Duane was so intelligent and insightful. He was truly ahead of his time. And I’d have to see Johnny Winter live with Uncle John and Tommy on drums and bass.