The scene: Oakland, 1970. Eighth grade, woodshop. Our substitute teacher confessed at the beginning of class that he knew nothing about wood or tools. Did we know what we were doing enough to continue on with our projects? Okay, then. He'd brought his record player, he'd be DJ. Toward the end of class he wound up playing a few tracks from Cold Shot, and those of us who'd been paying attention enthused: this was real feeling! Well, teacher said, stay after when the bell rings. There's a track I can't play for the class. I still remember Fabius Jones' grin to me in that moment.
The bell rang, we stayed. Needle dropped on vinyl. "The Signifyin Monkey told the Lion one day, there's a bad motherf***er comin down yo' way..." Goodness! I went out that weekend and bought the album.
Shuggie Otis, Johnny's son, got a lot of press for being precocious on this album; he played all the guitars and bass tracks, plus harmonica (Johnny played drums, piano and vibes; this was a two-man band, courtesy of overdubs, plus Delmar Evans on vox). And he does do an amazing job for a kid; but you can't listen to him as a kid. What he does is a very good job for ANYONE, regardless of age. Cold Shot, all these years later, is one of my top 4 blues albums (B.B.King 'Completely Well', Muddy Waters 'Hard Again', John Lee Hooker 'Serve You Right To Suffer' are the others). The songs are great, the arrangements are straightforward and clean, and the performances excellent throughout.
What you don't tend to hear about is the singer. Nicknamed "Mighty Mouth", Delmar Evans gives us real gifts throughout this disc. He has a strong, reedy falsetto and a low growl, and he bounces from one to the other, and in between, with great facility. Listen to the clip of "Sittin Here All Alone". It's a voice that truly deserves to be better known than it is, and this disc is a great way to get familiar with it. Listen to him cracking himself up in "That's Life", unable to continue on about the guy from Podunk who woke up in a bunk full of funk, he laughs, "Aw, f*** it, y'all play me sump'm, sh**!!" I still can't hear that without smiling wide.
Okay, now I've referenced profanity twice, let's get to the difference between the two albums contained here. "Cold Shot" was a legitimate release by the Johnny Otis Show, comprised of the musicians mentioned. It opened with "Signifying Monkey", a musical treatment of a traditional 'toast' (an african-american oral tradition, see Roger Abrahams [...])
From there it continues with straight up high-quality 1969 L.A. Blues. This album could be found in record stores.
"For Adults Only", on the other hand, was an entirely anonymous production. My guess is, that's because the cover art alone, let alone the songs, could have landed anyone involved with the project in jail on obscenity charges. Though the band is clearly the same, and F.A.O. even opened with the same track as Cold Shot, no real person's real name appeared anywhere on the original album. This album could be found in Adult Bookstores.
After Signifyin Monkey, "Snatch" continued with other examples of classic toasts Poolshootin Monkey, (here as "Signifyin Monkey part 2"), Shine and the Titanic (here, to a Bo Diddley beat and the melody of Otis' own "Willie and the Hand Jive, as "Hey, Shine") and Stack a Lee; plus anything else, it seems, they could find or put together, that had a whole lot of swearing in it. Two-Time Slim, an I'm-the-baddest-motha-you-ever-seen rant, incorporating some parts of "Who Do You Love" (walk 99 miles of barb'wire, wear a cobra snake for a necktie, etc.) has parts that are hilarious, and other parts that are unfit to be played in company (I'm the type that'd crawl over 50 good ***** to get to one fat boy's...WHAT?? Sorry I can't quote that here, just buy the album).
The last three songs are the weakest. "Two Girls" was on the original, but is stupid and embarrassing and 4 1/4 minutes too long. "It's Good..." is a protest song, not bad but not a shining success either. "Dirty Dozens" (aka "Yass Yass Yass") is a classic, done well.
Note: the original version of "Sittin Here Alone" ended with the lines "Oh, I ain't gonna do it no more/Cause every time I do it, you see/It makes my little wee-wee sore". Nothing about the song up to that point was anything but serious and heartfelt; in fact I never noticed the total non-sequiteur until I'd owned the album for a number of months. Unfortunately, that ending has been cut from this remastered release. Too, bad, it was (like a whole lot of this music) unique and hilarious.
Note 2: The original albums were "Cold Shot": tracks 1-10 here, in order; "For Adults Only": track 1, then tracks 11-18 (track 1 was the opening track for both albums); tracks 19-20 were not on either original record.
Note 3: Looks like R. Crumb did the artwork, doesn't it? Nope. Johnny O. himself.