By Charlie Swanson
Specializing in the Memphis soul sound made famous by Stax Records in the 1960s, Otis is a unique soul revue, a traveling house band that backs a rotating roster of legendary soul singers and rising stars for exuberant concert experiences.
Formed in San Francisco by longtime friends and musicians Mike Yoffie and Dave Wiens, Otis plays the Sweetwater Music Hall on Friday, February 26, with the help of soul singers Freddie Hughes and Erin Honeywell.
Yoffie, a San Rafael native who plays the B3 Hammond Organ, and Wiens, a Fresno native who slaps the bass, have been friends for more than a decade. They first played together in a ska band called Radio Noise.
“I’ve always loved the B3 sound, and Mike’s playing,” Wiens says. “We both fell in love with the Stax Records sound, especially Booker T and Otis Redding.” Three years ago, the two incorporated drummer Hud Bixler and guitarist Craig Daniel to help them recapture the Stax spirit and introduce that classic soul sound to a new generation under the Otis moniker.
Formed in the late ’50s, Stax Records was the embodiment of Memphis soul. Throughout the ’60s, the artists on Stax performed sold-out revue tours, which are now the stuff of legends.
Last year, the core members of Otis traveled back to Memphis, toured the Stax Music Academy and played with Memphis legends like Wayne Jackson. “That was like our pilgrimage to Mecca,” Yoffie says.
“It was amazing; we really made a deeper connection to the music,” adds Wiens.
Newly enthused by the recent trip, Otis’s ever-evolving concert experiences transcend the cover band concept by taking the Stax revue idea and modernizing it. “We have our own sound and our own feel,” Yoffie says. Playing obscure B-sides as well as their own original material, Otis mixes their influences and filters them through their own musical styles.
For the upcoming performance in Mill Valley, Otis is enlisting the power-packed talent of Freddie Hughes. Hughes scored several soul hits in the ’60s and ’70s, and performed with other luminaries like James Brown and Aretha Franklin. Now living in Oakland, his audiences have dwindled, though Otis is looking to change that.
“That’s a big part of what this project is about,” Yoffie says. “We want to create a platform for different singers, both established and up-and-coming.”
With the help of Hughes and rising star Erin Honeywell, as well as a phenomenal horn section, Otis plans to bring a raw, powerful energy to the upcoming concert. “People really respond to the music,” Yoffie says. “And we’re always blown away by the energy of the crowds.”
Otis plays on Friday, Feb. 26, at Sweetwater Music Hall, 19 Corte Madera Ave, Mill Valley; 9pm; $20-$25; 415/388-1100.