Not many Elvis fans are familiar with the name Otis Blackwell, but they should be. Blackwell helped redefine music in the mid-1950s and help craft what we now refer to as “Rock ‘N Roll.”
Even though more than 1,000 of his songs have sold nearly 200 million records, many people are unaware of his influence on music – specifically Elvis’s music.
When Elvis first started his career, he was being used. He did not know it at the time, and I am not entirely sure he cared, but he was. Sam Phillips, the producer at Sun Studios, wanted to find a “white boy that sounded like a black man.” That’s when Elvis walked into his life. Back in the early 1950s, especially in the south, Black people were extremely oppressed and segregated in the community.
“Words and Music By…”
As Otis Blackwell’s songwriting became increasingly popular, it was not acceptable for his name to sit alone on such big hits. Record producers did not think sales would be as high with just Otis Blackwell’s name, which is why Elvis’s name was added to the “Words and Music By.” But Elvis never liked this and fully admitted to it not being true.
“I’ve never written a song in my life. It’s all a big hoax.”
– Elvis Presley
Blackwell recorded his own demos and sent these to music publisher Aaron “Goldie” Goldmark, who took an interest. These were then sent to Elvis’s people and a door opened for Blackwell’s songwriting career. It is without a doubt that these two benefited from each other. Some of the hits written by Blackwell are some of Elvis’s most well-known songs!
Below is a list of songs Otis Blackwell wrote and performed by Elvis:
All Shook Up
Don’t Be Cruel
I’m a Roustabout
Make Me Know It
One Broken Heart for Sale
Please Don’t Drag That String Around
Return to Sender
(Such an) Easy Question
We’re Comin’ In Loaded
Otis Blackwell also wrote hits for Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, James Brown, The Who, Billy Joel, James Taylor, Dolly Parton, Conway Twitty, The Judds, Carl Perkins, Peggy Lee, and so many others. I would also love to mention he wrote: “Great Balls of Fire” and “Breathless” recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis – two of his biggest hits!
Great Balls Of Fire
Otis Blackwell’s Beginning
Otis Blackwell was born on February 16, 1931, in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up playing the piano and enjoying R&B and country music. This is where his passion for music started.
In 1952, Blackwell competed in an Amateur Night talent contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. He won and landed a recording contract with RCA. By 1855, Blackwell found his love for songwriting and stopped recording to pursue that avenue. This was clearly a good decision as he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1991.
Otis Blackwell was one of the leading African-American figures in the early days of rock and roll. Without his influence, who knows where music might be today.
Let us know his name and appreciate his work.
Until we meet again,
TCB and TCE,