Monday, August 22, 2005

Otis Waygood Blues Band: Way Good!


OTIS WAYGOOD BLUES BAND (1970; re-issued 2000,FRESHCD)

Otis Waygood was a blues band comprised of Rhodesian Jews (interesting to ponder on the implications of a time when this was possible) who famously came down to Cape Town on a whim and in a battered Combi, got a “guest artist” slot at the 1969 Battle Of The Bands (apparently an annual big deal in Cape Town in those years) and became an overnight sensation for their raw, exciting, stomping blues rock. They stayed in South Africa for two years and managed to release three LP’s before various realities of the Southern African situation caught up with the band members and the band dissolved/relocated to the UK.

In January 2000 the RetroFresh division of Benjy Mudie’s Fresh Records label re-released the band’s first album, Otis Waygood Blues Band (1970), on CD. All the tracks had to be digitally remastered from an original vinyl LP because, as is the case for many other South African releases of the Sixties and Seventies, the master tapes were destroyed in a fire at EMI Records’ warehouse. The wonders of the digital technology are such that to my ears RetroFresh might as well have had the master tapes to work from. Clive Calder’s 1970 production is sympathetic and the vocals and individual instruments are crystal clear and crisp, the sound mixes are good, the arrangements are inventive and one certainly gets a good idea of what the fuss was about when people raved about them as legendary live performers.

For some reason RetroFresh decided not to reproduce the original “none blacker” sleeve (perhaps too redolent of Spinal Tap) but the re-issue sleeve is great anyway, a kind of Meet The Beatles homage. It is the kind of restrained and elegant design job that adds to the allure of the band and that truly entices you into buying the CD, and that goes for the inlay card as well as the booklet with a Rian Malan-penned band biography and a number of “rare” photographs.

There is a sticker on the CD jewel case cover that promises bonus tracks and they turn out to be three tracks from the band’s third and final album Ten Light Claps And A Scream (1971.) This is slightly disconcerting. Does it mean that the third album will not be re-issued? Otis Waygood Blues Band is such a strong collection that one wants to hear the rest of the band’s output. Presumably there are no surviving outtakes from the recording sessions but surely there must be some live tracks? Such a powerful performing band must have been recorded in performance somewhere along the line.

The songs are a mixture of blues classics and compositions by band members. They even do the typical “Trad/arranged by ..” thing with a song they call “Watch’n’chain” (in 1977 Foghat recorded a version thereof as “Chevrolet”) and another song “Wee, Wee Baby” (first recorded by Chuck Berry as “Wee Baby Blues” as the flipside to his first hit “Maybellene”) but such is the creative process of the authentic blues folk tradition. John Renbourn is credited as the composer of “I Can’t Keep From Crying” but in this case he could have been responsible for no more than the slow, brooding arrangement of the song performed by Otis Waygood. It is actually yet another “traditional” Negro spiritual that must have been in the repertoires of many a white blues performer. The Blues Project recorded a faster version for their second album in 1967, and released a variation as a single.

The original album opens and closes with short, stomping performances, respectively “You’re Late, Miss Kate” (in the tradition of “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”) and “I’m Happy” (the closest Otis Waygood gets to a Canned Heat-style boogie, with Rob Zipper doing a passable Bob “the Bear” Hite impersonation.) In between there are the blues mentioned above, as well as Sony Boy Williamson’s “Help Me” which is taken at a faster pace than the template and could also be a Canned Heat take-off, two fine, original blues called “Moving On” and “Better Off On My Own,” and “Fever,” the single off the album and apparently a live highlight.

Overall the performances are accomplished, inventive and energetic late Sixties blues rock, with a very prominent bass guitar but with articulate and sensitive blues guitar playing, flavoured with plenty of flute, blues harp and on occasion a horn section. Rob Zipper is as good a blues singer as any White man of his generation and, no doubt because of the shared Jewish roots, there are echoes of Peter Green in his more raucous moods, or Bob Hite from Canned Heat. There is a strong European feel to the music and the flute contributions have a lot to do with this, as if Otis Waygood were influenced by the Dutch or German progressive blues bands of that era, and one is equally strongly reminded of the blues sound of very early Jethro Tull.

The three bonus tracks, recorded about a year later, are merely blues-based and lean more towards heavy rock, with a phased and rather muddy sound, heavy riffs, distorted vocals and with the lead guitar buried in the mix. Interesting as a progression but not nearly as exciting as the first studio outing.

All in all, this re-issue is a superb package, from album sleeve to music. It is truly wonderful that someone is taking the trouble to re-release music of this quality from an era that is well and truly gone.

Otis Waygood Blues Band 2001 CD release (RetroFresh)

1. You're Late Miss Kate (Deefore/Hitzfield) [2.08]
2. Watch an' Chain (Trad arr. R Zipper/A Zipper/ M Jackson/I Rubenstein/L
Sager) [4.33]
3. So Many Ways (R Zipper) [3.48]
4. I Can't Keep From Crying (John Renbourn) [6.03]
5. Fever (Davenport/Cooley) [4.21]
6. Wee Wee Baby (Trad arr. R Zipper/A Zipper/ M Jackson/I Rubenstein/L Sager) [2.50]
7. Better Off On My Own (R Zipper/A Zipper) [2.59]
8. Help Me (Willie Dixon/Ralph Bass) [5.01]
9. I'm Happy (R Zipper) [2.42]

Bonus tracks on CD re-issue (from Ten Light Claps And A Scream):
10. Devil Bones (Otis Waygood/Harry Poulus) [3.15]
11. You Can Do (part 1) (Otis Waygood) [4.20]
12. You Can Do (part 2) (Otis Waygood) [4.30]

Rob Zipper: Vocals, guitars, saxophones
Ivor Rubenstein: Vocals, percussion
Leigh Sagar: Guitars, organ
Martin Jackson: Vocals, flute
Alan Zipper: Bass

A Clive Calder production; Engineered by Leo Lagerway

Release information:
LP: 1970, EMI Parlophone, PCSJ (D) 12063
CD: 22 January 2001, Retro Fresh, Fresh CD109


tfcbrian said...

If you ever find a spare of of any of that Otis Waygood vinyl..I'll trade you some NZ Blues/Rock artists.
Even rough copies of the Waygood records will be cool.

Percy said...

I recently (about 2 years back) found a second cd of the OWBB. I cannot recall the title as it is in my other home in Cape Town. When I next go there I will get it and post the details here along with the tracklisting.

derk said...

hi i have a otis waygood blues band lp.the cover is solid black,if anybody is interested in it please contact me on

John said...

Hey Neels

You may remember I sent you a message a few months ago saying that I found your blog comments inspiring enough to want to do a few Blues Broers reunion gigs again. Well, thanks to your blog, the wheels have been in motion and there's a number of gigs coming up:

Die Boer (7th of May)
Hidden Cellar (14th of May)
Windstone Backpackers, Vredenburg (15th of May)
and there may yet be others added.

Volcanic ash permitting, I'll be arriving from Holland on the 1st of May and my brother, Clayton (Flaming Firestones and Blue Stones), will also arrive from Australia. We plan to play many of the songs we did in those days, but of course, as we have developed and grown, hopefully, since then, they may sound a bit different!

The gigs will include all the surviving members, past and present. Doc John may not be able to sing much as he's just had a throat operation.

As I mentioned before, your blog (from a long time ago) was very honest and a pretty accurate recount of what we did. I was pleased to see that, of all those early Cape Town blues bands, you seemed to prefer the raw authenticity of the Blues Broers MkI (anyway, that's how I interpreted it).

So, thanks again for your input, even though it is for something done years ago!

If you can come to one of the gigs, please do. It's going to be a lot of fun - I've been rehearsing and preparing for it for months! It would be nice to meet you then too.