Music News & Reviews

Concert pays tribute to soul acts like Otis Redding, Booker T

The Bay Area group Otis brings its Stax records inspired soul review to Fulton 55 Saturday, Feb. 27.
The Bay Area group Otis brings its Stax records inspired soul review to Fulton 55 Saturday, Feb. 27. Special to The Bee

As a band, Otis is both an homage and a reimagining.

The San Francisco group, which includes former Fresnans Hud Bixler, David Wiens and Craig Daniel, does a takeoff on the soul music revues that toured the U.S. and Europe through the late-1960s.

“What started this was us loving this era of music,” says Bixler, who will be in town with the band on Saturday, Feb. 27, for a show at Fulton 55.

As the name suggests, the band is inspired by Stax Records and its artists — guys like Booker T and Otis Redding.

Stax was the capital of Southern soul during the 1950s and ’60s. Housed in Memphis, Tenn., the label and recording studio put out work by Redding, but also Sam and Dave, Albert King and a young Isaac Hayes.

“We were dedicated to owning this sound,” says Bixler, who plays drums in the band.

The members were so dedicated, in fact, they traveled to Memphis last year on a study trip of sorts. They toured the Stax Music Academy and met with musicians including Wayne Jackson, who played saxophone in the Stax house band. They also sat in with a few Memphis soul bands.

“We played a couple of places at 3 in the morning, just sitting in,” Bixler says.

The Stax sound is markedly different from the soul music that came out of Detroit during that same time, Bixler says.

“It’s not Motown. It’s not super polished symphonic sounds,” he says.

These are down-and-dirty rhythm and blues tunes, done in mostly two minutes and thirty seconds. On a good night, Otis may play as many as 45 songs. Otis shows are high-energy, sweat-inducing and well-rehearsed.

There are other bands that play these songs, but they don’t do the show, Bixler says.

They don’t pay attention to the details – the matching outfits and choreography, the scripted stage banter and spot-on starts and stops.

“We want to bring back a show and really entertain people,” he says.

So, Otis is not just a band on stage. It’s a full-on production – the kind Stax artists became famous for doing. The musicians serve as a traveling house band, playing back to a rotating roster of legendary soul singers and up-and-comers. For the Fresno show, that’s Freddie Hughes.

Over the years, Hughes has worked with the likes of Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Etta James and Ike & Tina Turner, though he’s fairly obscure these days. Otis looks to introduce him to new audiences, Bixler says.

“He’s one of the original soul singers who’s still around, still kicking,” he says. “He just slays it.”

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee

Otis featuring Freddie Hughes

  • 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27
  • Fulton 55, 875 Divisadero St.
  • Tickets: $12-$15
  • 559-412-7400, www.fulton55.com
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