Otis Spann

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Otis Spann

November morning,
all is fresh and new
And the sky is a
break your heart blue
Black coffee at the small cafe
Bus stop, bundled children wait
Traffic crawls on the interstate
Otis Spann's buried in
an unmarked grave

Heart of the Delta, Mississippi born
Catfish, cotton fields and corn
Reaching for the baby grand
That piano's made for
both these hands
Went to church and learned to play

Otis Spann's veiled in
an unmarked grave

The world it continues to turn
Change gets made,
calories get burned
Admen looking for the perfect pitch
Outdoor smokers
rather freeze than switch
The Dow Jones Industrial's
down today
Otis Spann's shelter
is an unmarked grave

Juke Joints, county fairs and such
Blues by ear and a sense of touch
Moving north to the promised land
South Side, Muddy Waters' band
Yeah, he played with
soul and grace
Otis Spann's covered 
in an unmarked grave

Lunch hour comes with no fanfare
Sunglasses cutting down the glare 
Street vendor turning up the heat
Mini-smokestack rising in the street
There's meetings had
and deals are made
Otis Spann obscure in
an unmarked grave

One Room Country Shack, Backwater Blues
Rolling bass, crashing treble too
Strength and beauty
shining through
Make the keys do what
you want them to
The sky has turned
a gunmetal grey
Otis Spann's hidden in an unmarked grave

Evening falling on the edge of town
Television, all is winding down
No more saving time today
Children stay inside to play
Soon they'll lay them down to pray
Otis Spann's buried in an unmarked grave

©George S. Kelly  2003 Ace Sleeve Music BMI

George Kelly: Vocal, Guitar  
Mike Mackey: Guitar 
Bill Gaff: Piano  
Russ Miller: Soprano Sax 
Dennis Sheridan: Congas 
Paul Finazzo: Bass  
Dave Taylor: drums

Some time around the mid-90s, I was at a friend's house, leafing through a Blues Revue Magazine, and ran across an article about the fact that Otis Spann was buried in an unmarked grave. 

Otis Spann was a key figure in the Chicago blues scene, having been an integral part of Muddy Waters' band. He  also played with B.B. King, Eric Clapton and James Cotton, to mention just a few. The first time I heard his solo work was when a friend turned me on to this piece:
Spann's Stomp
I was stunned. It was just piano and drums but sounded like so much more. Never heard anything like it before or since.

You can see more of Otis Spann in this fantastic video: 
Colin James Presents the Blues Masters

I decided to put together a song that recognized this great artist. I thought it was something that mattered.

I decided to take the intercalary approach, where every other verse related specifically to Otis Spann's life, and every other verse was about everyday life in Chicago on a cold November day. That idea came from the way John Steinbeck assembled the chapters in The Grapes of Wrath. 

Further inspiration came from Bob Dylan's song, Blind Willie McTell, where each verse ended with, "No one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell." Willie McTell is one of my all time favorite artists, and Dylan's song is right up there there with his best work.  

The story does have somewhat of a happy ending. In June 1999, a gravestone was finally installed thanks to funds raised by readers of Blues Revue Magazine. 

"The standout track here is the six-minute "Otis Spann," which unfolds as an intimate homage to the great blues pianist."
Steve Leggett, All Music Guide

A Better Ending

A Better Ending

Paul Finazzo, Bill Gaff

Paul Finazzo, Bill Gaff

Russ Miller

Russ Miller

Dennis Sheridan

Dennis Sheridan

Dave Taylor

Dave Taylor