Johnny Otis packed them into dance halls so tight the kids didn’t even have room to dance, so they improvised and moved their hands instead. Art, or if that’s too highfalutin, rock ‘n’ roll does imitate life, and that’s how the hand jive began. It’s simple really, put a sharp, searing guitar lick over top a Bo Diddley beat, mix in some echo and let it rip.
The man deserves his own book really, as a producer he discovered Jackie Wilson, Esther Phillips, Little Willie John and Etta James, he made Big Mama Thornton’s Hound Dog and it’s his band that plays behind Johnny Ace’s Pledging My Love. R&B music would not be what it is without this California born son of two Greek immigrants. It is easy to then say you and I wouldn’t be quite what we are either. He was that kind of man.
The hand jive (and yes, it’s still pretty fucking cool):
Slap your hands on your knees two times
Clap your hands twice
Cross your hands, right above
Cross them again, right below
Make fists and hit them twice, right above
Do it again, right below
Give me a thumbs up with your right hand and shake it twice over your right shoulder
Do it again with your left
Slap your hands on your knees twice…
Do this furiously for two minutes and thirty four seconds and brothers and sisters find yourself unburdened.
Willie and the Hand Jive, Johnny Otis