Johnny Otis Orchestra – Little Red Hen

15th December 2021 · 1950, 1950s, Blues, Jazz, Music, Rock'n'Roll

This is another branch in the roots of rock’n’roll, and Johnny Otis was a key figure in many ways, but he may not actually play on this tune.

It came out in 1950 and shortly before this Otis, who had his own nightclub in the LA ghetto of Watts, had had to give up drumming after an accident with a chainsaw. Strange but true.

The singer is a fellow called Redd Lyte, who also went by Leon Sims and Floyd Hollis, which may or may not have been his real name. Confused? Who wasn’t! You’ll even find a YouTube clip of the song claiming the singer is Jimmy Ryder, a minor figure in late-1940as R&B, but it isn’t.

The truth is that Otis had hired Lyte/Sims/Hollis not to play in his band but to MC at his Barrelhouse Club, keeping the joint jumping by making stage introductions, telling a few jokes and singing the occasional song.

And when Otis signed to Savoy Records, at his first recording session in November 1949 the drummer spread the vocal duties around, depending on who he thought would sound best on the song.

Probably to the chagrin of his regular front man Melvin Lighty (aka Mel Walker), Otis gave two tunes (Deceivin’ Blues and Lost Dream Blues) to a 13-year-old girl called Little Esther, a sensational debut – and two others (Ain’t Nothin’ Shakin’ and Little Red Hen) to Lyte/Sims/Hollis.

The resulting tune did not make a star of the triple-named MC but it certainly helped Little Esther get her first step on the ladder before finding fame as Esther Phillips.