Otis Cadillac on Old-School Cool, the Lindy Hop, and the Real Roots of Rock ’n’ Roll
Octogenarian band leader Otis Cadillac is like a time capsule. His atmosphere alone suggests a different time and place. Along with the El Dorados and the sublime Seville Sisters, Otis emits the sound and style of classic rhythm and blues, where he says rock ’n’ roll first took root. Before the band's set at BaCa's Limelight: Sock Hop at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, we spoke to Otis about the roots of rock and what makes the old-school cool.
BPB: Where did you get your name?
Cadillac: It was a nickname from when I was working in the Cadillac division of General Motors in Detroit back in the '40s.
Were you performing then?
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In a manner of speaking, I’ve always been performing. The question was: Are you getting paid? Which was rarely. I’d sit in with fellow musicians at house parties and things like that. My first little band was in 1952. We did the juke joints and got to meet good players and little by little got more work.
What style did you play back then?
We always did rhythm and blues. In the ’50s, we got more pointed towards rock ’n’ roll roots.
As a real old-schooler, can you explain the old school to students of the new school?
A lot of it has to do with recording. Recording in old-school analog gave a totally different feel to the music than you have today with electronics. It was more real, more of an experience. A good analog recording gives an experience you'd have when you’re in the club, when you're actually listening to the music.
So there’s a technical aspect and an atmosphere...
It’s all an evolution. The instruments and the sound was just an evolution from big bands and blues-oriented orchestras of the late '40s. This became smaller bands, but the sound was pretty much the same.
What particular musicians do you draw inspiration from?
I was very much influenced by Cosimo Matassa’s studio, Fats Domino, and all the people down in New Orleans. In my opinion, they had more to do with the creation of rock ’n’ roll than many of the other people who’ve been given more credit. They had the rhythm. They had the beat. They had that sound that moved people.
And, the great singers who were around — I very much loved Joe Turner. But there were some great doo-wop singers who don’t get credit for their vocal abilities — guys like Willie Winfield and the Harptones.
Whats your preferred dance style?
There ain’t nothing like the lindy hop.
What can we expect from your Limelight BaCa shows?
We like to keep the music evolving while still paying homage to roots. So we play music that a lot of people haven’t heard in a style they’re familiar with. I call it retro-R&B-jam-band music. We don’t play things that are overly recognizable or even that popular. We try to play forgotten gems.
What’s behind your interest to resurrect forgotten sounds?
Back in the late '50s, when things were starting to pop all over the place, there was a genuine excitement about the music, in terms of people doing things that were never done before as far as tunes and rhythms and approaches to the blues. It was exciting. You went to a show, you didn’t know what you were gonna hear, but you knew you were gonna have a good time. [It's] an excitement I don’t see as much today. Today at a show, you’ll hear this guy’s 20 hit songs just like they are on the record. I can’t blame them — that’s how they’re making money. But back then it was more like, "Hey, are you coming to the party?"
Otis Cadillac and the El Dorados R&B Revue play Limelight: Sock Hop at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at Bailey Contemporary Arts, 42nd NE First St., Pompano Beach. Visit bacapompano.org, or call 954-284-0141. Free.
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