The Clyde Otis Story

There are special songs in the American Song Book that have the ability to conjure fond memories of a certain period, and when they were hits they captured the moment and the spirit of the times. Such songs have easily withstood the tests of time and are fondly referred to as classics; these are formable songs that are easily identified within hearing the first few notes. Songs like Nat King Cole’s “Looking Back,” Sarah Vaughn’s “Broken Hearted Melody,” Dinah Washington’s “What a Difference a Day Makes,” and “This Bitter Earth,” as well as a nearly endless string of timeless hits by Brook Benton including, “It’s Just a Matter of Time,” “Kiddio,” “Thank You Pretty Babe,” “Endlessly,” and “The Boll Weevil Song,” just to name a few.

In order to produce such classic tunes, one requires a class act—one that can interpret the material in their own inimitable style. But you also must be certainly blessed with your own class, grace and style as well. This is the identifiable mark and genius of Clyde Otis, composer, writer, producer and publisher of all of the above aforementioned classics. Clyde Otis is the founder of several notable music publishing companies including IZA Music Corporation, Vanessa Music Corporation, Eden Music, Prentice Music, and a record production company, Argon Productions; all of these divisions fall under the banner of the Clyde Otis Music Group.

Anyone who has ever aspired or dreamt of working successfully within the music industry can learn much by carefully following Clyde’s four decade career. After driving a cab while carting his songs from door to door in New York City’s famous Tin Pan Alley, Clyde’s first big break came in 1954 when his first song, “That’s All There is to That,” was recorded and he immediately quit his cabbie job; the song went on to become an enormous hit for Nat King Cole. A few years later Clyde met another Nat—Nat Goodman, who was managing the seminal doo-wop group, ‘The Diamonds.’ Goodman helped teach Clyde to sharpen and develop his lyrical focus commercially, after which ‘The Diamonds’ went on to record a song that was penned by Clyde entitled, “The Stroll.”

As Clyde’s songs began to climb the charts, he shifted his focus to doing freelance sessions with musical greats Johnny Desmond, Eddie Fisher, Johnny Rat and Nat King Cole. While still working on ‘The Diamonds’ recording of “The Stroll,” in 1958, Clyde met the then president of Mercury Records, Art Talmadge. Impressed with Clyde’s method of operating in the recording studio, Talmadge recruited him to become to Mercury’s Eastern Regional A&R executive. Clyde Otis made history by becoming the first African American to head the artist and repertoire department of a major record label.

In fact, Clyde had produced as many as seventeen consecutive hits with Brook Benton, developing the artist into a top hit-maker of the times with classics such as, “It’s Just a Matter of Time,” “Thank You Pretty Baby,” “Think Twice,” “So Many Ways,” “The Ties That Bind,” and many more. Paramount to these hits were other memorable duets that Clyde wrote and produced which featured Dinah Washington alongside of Brook Benton including hit songs, “A Rockin’ Good Way,” and, “Baby You Got What it Takes.”

In a recap of the Billboard and Cashbox Top 100 hits for the year of 1962 (Clyde’s last year with Mercury Records), of Mercury’s 51 hit singles, Clyde had produced 33 of them. During Clyde’s four year tenure with Mercury records, he was responsible for earnings in excess of 100-million dollars.

Upon leaving Mercury Records, Clyde served a brief stint a Liberty Records. However, even while earning double what he had made while at Mercury, Liberty Records was unable to staunch Clyde’s true love: to return to songwriting and publishing. Clyde shortly thereafter parted ways with Liberty Records and went on to produce timeless hits by artists such as Aretha Franklin, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Timi Yuru, Brook Benton, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, Johnny Mathis and many more.

Clyde also began exploring musical waters that were previously uncharted by African Americans. In the late Sixties and early Seventies Clyde achieved multiple number-one hit records on the country music charts. His songs were being recorded by country superstars such as Sonny James, Don Williams, Jacky Ward, Charlie Rich, Glen Campbell, and Barbara Mandrell. As recently as 1991, Randy Travis earned a number-one hit by covering the classic Otis tune, “It’s Just a Matter of Time.”

Eden Music Corporation had firmly established itself as an important country music publishing company, and Clyde would once again make history as the first African American music publisher to earn a number-one Country Music Award. All of the while, Clyde continued to churn out multiple R&B hits for stars such as the Isley Bros., Joe Simon, B.B. King, Jean Wells, Ben E. King, Ray Charles, Clarence Carter, and many others.

Clyde Otis served as a Member of the Board of Directors of The Songwriting Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the A&R Producer’s Hall of Fame by NARAS in 1987.

When asked what his secret was behind the production of such endless streams of timeless hits Otis says, “I’ve always been able to produce a hit when I was willing to pay the price emotionally—for hit records are usually the result of the producer’s total emotional involvement.”   For Clyde Otis, this is the formula for success in almost every endeavor.
 

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