Otis Blackwell


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b. 16 February 1932, Brooklyn, New York, USA, d. 6 May 2002, Nashville, Tennessee, USA. The author of ‘Great Balls Of Fire’, ‘Fever’, ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ and ‘All Shook Up’, Blackwell was one of the greatest songwriters of the rock ‘n’ roll era. He learned piano as a child and grew up listening to both R&B and country music. Victory in a talent contest at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre led to a recording contract with Joe Davis’ Jay-Dee label. His first release was his own composition ‘Daddy Rollin’ Stone’, which became a favourite in Jamaica where it was recorded by Derek Martin. The song later became part of the Who’s ‘Mod’ repertoire. During the mid-50s, Blackwell also recorded in a rock ‘n’ roll vein for RCA Records and Groove before turning to writing songs for other artists. 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. Subsequently, ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ and ‘All Shook Up’ (first recorded by David Hill on Aladdin Records) began a highly profitable association with Elvis Presley. ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ was originally released as the b-side of ‘Hound Dog’, but went on to top the US charts in its own right for nine weeks. The rhythmic tension of ‘All Shook Up’ perfectly fitted Presley’s stage persona and it became his first UK number 1. It was followed by ‘Paralysed’ (1957), and the more-mellow ‘Return To Sender’ (1962) and ‘One Broken Heart For Sale’. 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 Encyclopedia of Popular Music in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Music.

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