2010 Fairfield Weekly’s Grand Band Slam Winner
“Blues/Blues Rock” category: Otis & the Hurricanes
Hurricane Otis was an actual hurricane that lashed the western coast of Mexico in the fall of 2005, decades after Chris Cross, lead singer/guitarist of Otis and the Hurricanes, received his nickname.
Legend has it that Cross’ friends first started calling him “Otis” after he bent his first note on a Fender Telecaster at the tender age of 14, permanently engraining the blues into his persona. Before he fell for the blues genre, Cross was introduced to music like many children of the 1960s, by the British Invasion.
“I’m dating myself but, of course, like many people, I grew up listening to The Beatles and the Stones and that kind of music in the mid-1960s,” says Cross, with a voice more disarming than one would think a blues singer could possess. “That segued into the blues and then that morphed into more of a groove thing. I found myself gravitating towards the New Orleans feel, like Little Feat and the Radiators — blues-based, groove driven tunes.”
Otis is a child of the ‘60s blues resurgence, as are the other five members of the Hurricanes. That era unshackled the genre from the poverty and strife of the rural, post-Civil War South of Robert Johnson and made it increasingly susceptible to the musical melting pot of a changing America.
“The band is 11 years old now and the direction has pretty much been in that New Orleans flavor,” explains Cross, likening the group to a city known so well for its blending of cultures, “that whole jambalaya of music.”
Eleven years with the same set group of musicians breeds a clairvoyance of sorts. One knows what the other will do before he does it. An old blues tune is a blank canvas for the Hurricanes, with each member free to paint with flourishes of color through improvisation without stepping on anyone’s toes. “We’ve got a couple of originals, but we’ll take more obscure tunes and then re-write the rhythms,” says Cross. “We’ve been together long enough that we know what we all like to do.”
One thing about the blues will never change: Each song tells a story. Whether the lyrics speak about a woman, or — well, let’s be honest, it’s usually a woman — a rich tradition of storytelling remains the driving force behind the music. “That’s what really grabs us,” Cross says, “the storylines. They’re just love songs, but the storylines are wonderful and very universal.”
While many believe a hurricane in Fairfield County to be meteorologically improbable, Otis and his Hurricanes have managed to take this category by storm for the third year.
Jackson Connor – Fairfield Weekly 8.25.2010