Otis Blackwell (16 February 1931 – 6 May 2002) was an American songwriter, singer, and pianist whose work significantly influenced rock 'n' roll. His compositions include Little Willie John's "Fever", Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire" and "Breathless", Elvis Presley's "Don't Be Cruel", "All Shook Up" and "Return to Sender" (with Winfield Scott), and Jimmy Jones' "Handy Man". He should not be confused with another songwriter and producer Robert "Bumps" Blackwell.
He first became famous by winning a local talent contest ("Amateur Night") at the Apollo Theater, Harlem, New York in 1952, led to a recording contract with RCA and then with Jay-Dee. His first release was his own composition "Daddy Rolling Stone" which became a favorite in Jamaica where it was recorded by Derek Martin. The song later became part of The Who's "Mod" repertoire. Enjoying some early recording and performing success, he found his first love was songwriting and by 1955 had settled into the groove that he would ride for decades. His first successes came in 1956 when Little Willie John's R&B hit with the sultry "Fever" was an even bigger pop success for Peggy Lee. Then, "All Shook Up" (first recorded by David Hill on Aladdin) began a highly profitable association with Elvis Presley, who was credited as co-writer. There was a distinct similarity between Blackwell's vocal style and Presley's, which has led to speculation that Elvis adopted some of his songwriter's mannerisms. From 1956 through the early 1960s, they fed off each other's talent, sharing a close musical affinity and, more incredibly, a vocal style so similar as to be eerie. "If you compare the demos with the records, you'll see that Presley's voice was practically an exact copy.
Blackwell was one of the leading figures of early rock 'n' roll, although he was not well known by the public. His own records never cracked the Top 40, yet he wrote million-selling songs for Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dee Clark and others. He also recruited other songwriters to write for Presley such as Winfield Scott.
During an appearance on "Late Night with David Letterman," Blackwell said he'd never met Presley in person. When he was having a contract dispute with his publishing company, he also wrote under the white-sounding pen-name of "John Davenport", Throughout his lifetime, Blackwell composed more than a thousand songs, garnering worldwide sales of close to 200 million records. Colonel Tom Parker, manager of Elvis asked Otis to appear in the Presley movie Girls! Girls! Girls!, for which he had written "Return to Sender," but the superstition about meeting Elvis kept him from accepting.
Many of the songs Blackwell wrote also listed the recording artist and others as co-writers. This was the prevailing practise at the time, because the only royalties an artist could be sure of receiving were those from song-writing. That was the price a writer paid for having top-selling talent record their work. As the tide of rock 'n' roll receded, Blackwell recorded R&B material for numerous labels including Atlantic, MGM and Epic. In later years he was in semi-retirement, making only occasional live appearances. Otis Blackwell is the grandfather of Torian Brown.
In 1991, Blackwell was left paralyzed by a stroke. Three years later, Shanachie released Brace Yourself! A Tribute to Otis Blackwell. The album features 15 Blackwell-penned tracks recorded by the likes of Kris Kristofferson ("All Shook Up), Blondie's Debbie Harry ("Don't Be Cruel"), The Smithereens ("Let's Talk About Us"), Graham Parker ("Paralyzed"), and Ronnie Spector ("Brace Yourself"). Otis Blackwell died in 2002 of a heart attack and was interred in Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee.
Otis Blackwell was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1986 and in 1991 into the National Academy of Popular Music's Songwriters Hall of Fame. Blackwell's crowning moment came in the late 1980s when the Black Rock Coalition, a prominent organization of black rock musicians, led by Vernon Reid, the lead guitarist of the band, Living Colour, held a tribute for him at the Prospect Park Bandshell in his native Brooklyn. Many prominent musicians and singers took part including Blackwell himself, who performed an assortment of his best songs, including "One Broken Heart for Sale," "Black Trail," "Don't Be Cruel" and "Daddy Rolling Stone."
Otis Blackwell was one of the greatest R&B songwriters of all time. His songwriting style is as uniquely indentifiable as that of Leiber and Stoller, Chuck Berry, or Willie Dixon and helped redefine popular music in America in the 1950s. This is true even though he often collaborated with such partners as Winfield Scott, Eddie Cooley, and Jack Hammer. Blackwell was one of the most important innovators who helped invent the musical vocabulary of rock & roll at its very beginning. Blackwell's works have been recorded into immortality by a host of other major figures in the record field, including Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, James Brown, The Who, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty, The Judds, Carl Perkins and Peggy Lee, among numerous others. At other times in his career, Blackwell has also been successful as a record producer, having helped turn out hits with artists as diverse as Connie Francis, Mahalia Jackson and Sal Mineo.
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Otis Blackwell, songwriting legend who penned tunes for Elvis Presley, dies in Nashville, TN. (Entertainment).(Brief Article)(Obituary)
May 27, 2002; Otis Blackwell, the songwriter of such Elvis classics as Don't Be Cruel, All Shook Up, One Broken Heart For Sale and Return To...