Sunday, 14 September 2008

"The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions" by OTIS SPANN feat Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac [including the 1969 LP "The Biggest Thing Since Colossus"] (2006 Sony/Blue Horizon 2CD Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…In Our Hearts Forever…"

Released in May 1969 - "The Biggest Things Since Colossus" was a lone-LP outing for the Chicago-born piano-player OTIS SPANN on the cult Blue Horizon label. It's long been a notoriously difficult-to-find vinyl rarity - clocking in at a ton sterling (if you can locate one). The fact that it contains much of FLEETWOOD MAC in their Peter Green bluesy prime is all the more enticing.

UK released May 2006 - "The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions" by OTIS SPANN (featuring Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac) is a 2CD Remaster on Sony/Blue Horizon 82876822902 (Barcode 828768229026) and is roughly based around Spann's "The Biggest Thing..." album. Here are the titan-like details...

Disc 1:
1. Can’t Do Me No Good
2. Bloody Murder
Tracks 1 and 2 are the non-LP A & B-side of his 1st UK 7" single released September 1968 on Blue Horizon Records 57-3142
The band line-up is Otis Spann (vocals and piano), Walter "Shakey" Horton (harmonica), Johnny Shines (guitar), Willie Dixon (Upright Bass) and Clifton James (Drums)

3. Someday Soon Baby
4. Hungry Country Girl
Tracks 3 and 4 are on the 20-track 1969 2LP set "Blues Jam At Chess" on Blue Horizon Records 7-66227
The band line-up is Otis Spann (vocals and piano), Peter Green and Danny Kirwan (guitars), John McVie (Bass) and Mick Fleetwood (Drums)

5. My Love Depends On You
6. Walkin’
7. It Was A Big Thing
8. Temperature Is Rising (110.2 F)
9. Dig You
10. No More Doggin’
11. Ain’t Nobody’s Business
12. She Needs Some Loving
13. I Need Some Air
14. Someday Baby
Tracks 5 to 14 are the entire LP "The Biggest Thing Since Colossus" on Blue Horizon Records (7-63217) from May 1969 (false starts, studio talk are included along with the master takes)
The band line-up is Otis Spann (vocals and piano), Peter Green and Danny Kirwan (guitars), John McVie (Bass) and S.P. Leary replacing Mick Fleetwood (Drums)

Disc 2:
1. No More Doggin’ (Take 1)
2. No More Doggin’ (Take 2, False Start Plus Take 3)
3. I Need Some Air (Take 1, False Start Plus Take 2)
4. Walkin’ (Take 1 & 2, False Starts Plus Take 4)
5. Walkin’ (Take 4)
6. Blues For Hippies (Take 1 – Complete Master Version/Remix)
7. Temperature Is Rising (98.8 F) (Take 1 – Single Master Version/Remix)
8. Someday Baby (Take 1, 2 & 3 – False Starts Plus Take 4)
9. Someday Baby (Take 5)
10. Someday Baby (Take 6)
11. She Needs Some Loving (Take 1)
12. Dig You (Take 1)
13. Dig You (Take 2 – False Start Plus Take 3)
14. She’s Out Of Sight (Take 1 & 2 – False Starts Plus Take 3)
Tracks 1 to 14 are all previously unissued versions with studio chatter and false starts included (with the same line-up as "The Biggest Thing Since Colossus" sessions).

There's a couple of niggles worth mentioning. "Someday Baby", the last track on Disc 1, is credited as being written by Otis Spann, but I'm sure it's a cover of a Sleepy John Estes and Hammock Nixon song from the 1940's (an admin error no doubt). Second is the title of the set itself - "The Complete...Sessions" - when it actually isn't complete! Tracks 3 and 4 on Disc 1 are from the 2LP set "Blues Jam At Chess" as I've already pointed out, but there are in fact 7 more tracks on that double featuring Otis Spann (with Fleetwood Mac accompanying). You'll have to buy the 2 volumes now titled "Blues Jam In Chicago Volume One" and "Blues Jam In Chicago Volume Two" to truly get a 'complete' picture of that hugely productive year - 1969. Third, there's also Spann’s work on the Johnny Shines Blue Horizon LP "Last Night's Dream" again from 1969 – that’s available on the Sunnyland Slim and Johnny Shines “The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions” CD set from February 2008. And fourth are his fantastic piano contributions to Johnny Young's sole Blue Horizon LP, "Fat Mandolin", now re-issued on CD as "The Complete Blue Horizon Sessions" (see separate review). All in all, it could have been a 3CD set, but would probably have been commercially unviable as such. Besides, as I say, the tracks are available on separate releases if you really want them. If anything, the absences on this 2CD set only wet the appetite for more.

Anyway, back to this issue. It opens with a lethal non-album one-two - cool “Shakey” Horton harmonica playing lingering over the slow Blues of “Bloody Murder” – a reworking of a 1953 Frank “Honeyboy” Patt song on Specialty Records suitably called “Bloodstains On The Wall”. The seven-minute “Someday Soon” has studio chatter and Green pinging away delicately as Spann encourages the English boy “Don’t stop!” Spann was clearly as enamoured with Peter Green and his motley British crew as they were with him - both singing each others' respective praises between takes and clearly enjoying the whole recording process. Sounding at times like Muddy Waters in his vocal delivery – tracks like “Someday Baby” have Spann and his band just ‘cook’ – a perfect meeting and white and black blues lovers digging it the most. The Rosco Gordon classic “No More Doggin’” sounds incredible – the remaster bringing out a band on fire - while their boss swears he’ll have no more foolin’ around from his lady (Green lets rip – Spann pounds the keys and shouts “Sock It To me!” – it’s thrilling stuff). Disc 2 has more fabulous Blues for Fleetwood Mac fans – Peter Green enjoying himself as Spann shouts, “Where’s my guitar player! Let me hear from you!” during Takes 1 & 2 of “She’s Out Of Sight”.

Tragically Spann was taken ill in early 1970 and died of cancer in April of that year, criminally robbing the blues world of a legend at only 40 years of age. The liner notes explain that because of non-payment of musician union dues, for the lack of $1000, his plot remained without a headstone for years until an internet campaign was launched - and in June 1999 - a headstone was finally dedicated to him reading "Otis Played The Deepest Blues We Ever Heard. He'll Play In Our Hearts Forever". Mike Vernon, Producer of this re-issue and leading light at Blue Horizon, contributed to that campaign - and it's clear from his detailed and affectionate liner notes - that this project was a labour of love for him. Luckily it's been so for us too.

Complete with a card-wrap on the outside - this is a classy release for a bluesman who has remained in relative obscurity for way too long. Fantastic sound, beautifully presented, wads of unheard gems - a truly masterful release - and one I urge you to purchase pronto…

PS: the four Blue Horizon releases pictured below also feature OTIS SPANN on varying tracks

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