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Johnny Otis & His Orchestra

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Ioannis (Yannis) Veliotes on December 28, 1921 in Vallejo, California) is an American blues and rhythm and blues pianist, vibraphonist, drummer, singer, bandleader, and impresario.

After playing in swing orchestras he founded his own band in 1945 and had one of the most enduring hits of the big band era, “Harlem Nocturne”. This band played with Wynonie Harris and Charles Brown. In 1947 he and Bardu Ali opened the Barrelhouse Club in the Watts district of Los Angeles. He reduced the size of his band and hired singers Mel Walker, Little Esther and the Robins (who later became the Coasters). He discovered the teenaged Phillips when she won one of the Barrelhouse Club’s talent shows. With this band, which toured extensively throughout the United States as the California Rhythm and Blues Caravan, he had a long string of rhythm and blues hits through 1952.

In the late 1940s he discovered Big Jay McNeely, who then performed on his Barrelhouse Stomp. In the 1950s he discovered Etta James, for whom he produced her first hit, Roll With Me, Henry, (also known as The Wallflower). As an artist and repertory man for King Records he also discovered Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard, and Little Willie John, among others. He also became an influential disk jockey in Los Angeles. However, he continued to perform, and in April 1957 he had a hit with his best-known recording Willie and the Hand Jive. His most famous composition is “Every Beat of My Heart”, first recorded by an obscure group in the ’50s but which became a huge hit for Gladys Knight.

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