Vintage VOTD: The Johnny Otis Show – Willie & The Hand Jive
“Willie and the Hand Jive” is a song written by Johnny Otis and originally released as a single in 1958 by Johnny Otis Show, reaching #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #5 on the Billboard R&B chart. The song has a Bo Diddley beat and was partly inspired by the music sung by a chain gang Otis heard while he was touring.The Johnny Otis Show original version of the song produced by Tom Morgan has an infectious Bo Diddley beat, much of it provided by drummer Earl Palmer. Johnny Otis biographer George Lipsitz describes Jimmy Nolen’s guitar riff on the song as “unforgettable”.The music was based on a song Otis had heard a chain gang singing while touring, combined with work Otis did as a teenager when he was performing with Count Otis Matthews and the West Oakland House Stompers.The lyrics tell of a man named Willie who became famous for doing a hand jive dance. In a sense, the story is similar to that of Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode”, which tells of someone who became famous for playing the guitar and was released two months before “Willie and the Hand Jive”. The origin of the song came when one of Otis’ managers, Hal Ziegler, found out that rock’n’roll concert venues in England did not permit the teenagers to stand up and dance in the aisles, so they instead danced with their hands while remaining in their seats. At Otis’ concerts, performers would demonstrate Willie’s “hand jive” dance to the audience, so the audience could dance along. The dance consisted of clapping two fists together one on top of the other, followed by rolling the arms around each other. Otis’ label, Capitol Records, also provided diagrams showing how to do the hand jive dance.