Otis Day and the Knights, 1985 by Dess Dermondy
Fall 1985, Otis Day and the Knights were on tour and a large tour at that.
Jeff, a long time school friend and trusted comrade had a mission to pursue. I don’t mention his last name for I believe he is in-line to become a police chief in a town near you. Walking along the road in down town Lexington, MA, Jeff pulled over to talk to me. He reserved a U-haul rental truck 21 footer, I believe and the mission at hand was to travel to the University of Massachusetts to see Otis perform in his glory. The price for accommodations (the back of the U-Haul) and beverage (the cheapest beer available by keg) $20 complete. I immediately signed up. The road trip was sold out inside an hour. We meet early on Saturday morning at 9:00am sharp. We all quickly piled into the back at 9:00am, I do not recall how many of us there were but it was around 10. University of Massachusetts (U-Mass) was referred to at the time as Zoo Mass and for good reason (later explained). The back of the box truck was dark for there was no lighting available. Only trace amounts of light coming from the outline of the rolled up back door. If you have ever been on Space Mountain down in Walt Disney Land in Florida, this is close to the sensation that you experienced. Completely dark with un-anticipated swings. Halfway to the Zoo, Weebs (nick name) announced that his throat was “parched” and preceded to tap one of the kegs. No one argued and we all joined in passing plastic cups to all guests and forming a line to the left around the inside the van. Upon arrival at Zoo Mass 1/8th of the keg was one the box truck floor. Pulling into the parking lot at the campus, Weebs investigated how much beer was consumed during the journey. More damage than we realized had occurred, the keg was empty. Jeff had enough of driving at this point and commissioned one of the guests to seek out another keg at a local vendor. The van returned in no time. We piled back into the back and formed a line to the right, leaving the back door open and parked.
A third through this keg it was decided to patrol the campus. Driving around campus the students were donating furniture, roadside. The next school year was beginning and furniture was being tossed into the trash, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. We gathered lamps, a sleep sofa, padded living room chair and nick knacks. The festivities on Campus were at an all time high complete with bomb-fires on the front lawns…Otis was on the way to deliver the goods. As late afternoon was passing anticipation of Otis’ arriving the next afternoon was mounting. The show had sold out months earlier. Several years earlier Otis and the knights did a cameo appearance in a film that all critics hailed as a flop. The film was and still is a smash hit. The name of the film: Animal House, starring John Belushi, Karen Allen, and Tom Hulce. Zoo Mass picked up were the movie left off. Students were traveling from all corners of the United States to study: women, beer and to perfect the art of parting. At the time the school had one hell of a repetition. During the evening we traveled from party to party introducing ourselves to the students. We were guests on campus and well liked. Not a campus cop was insight. Half way into the night several U-Haul guests had passed out in the back of the van. We secured their bodies as so not to roll out the back of the van while traveling. We had been well received by the students to a point that they were phoning head to other students to inform them of our arrival. We were soon being greeted on the front lawns. A good time to be had by all.
A roomer had fired up that Otis and his Posse had arrived in down town Amherst. Upon hearing this Jeff gathered all conscious guest to get back in the van and we set off to see if this roomer was valid. Somewhere downtown Amherst the van slowed down and stopped. Blue flashing light was coming through the cracks of the roll-up van door, not good it was obviously the cops. We quiet down to a low roar. Out of nowhere the back door flung open. The local Chief of Amherst had enough experience with law enforcement to know that a moving traveling around down town at midnight was enough reason, as far as he was concerned, to pull over and check out what the “why” part of it was. He had a large black flash light that part timed as a billy club. Once he put his sights on what was going down in the back of the van, he turned around and then turned back facing us and shouted “GET THIS F##**’N VAN INTO THIS PARKING LOT, NOW.”
He wasn’t polite about it. There was way too much paper work involved to hall us in and being the Chief of Police, he was apparently short handed as far as staff is concerned.
With out complaining Jeff pulled into the parking lot, jumped out of the drivers seat to chat with the Chief. The Chief further explained that if he seen this vans on the road again tonight that he would arrest us all. We agreed to his demands, it sounded as if he meant it. Jeff assured the cop that we would be in full compliance with his orders. Some of the van guests were able to sleep, personally I do not remember sleeping and if I did it was a brief nap.
By 10am the next morning all guests had awaken. We set off for Campus. It was still a bit early for the show but crowds of concertgoers were arriving in droves. The field in front of the stage was soon filled with a sea of heads. The crowd over flowed into the adjacent parking lot. Folks with out tickets were showing up. Ambulances were coming and going with a wide variety of wounded. Again I do not remember seeing much in the way of law enforcement but paramedics were abundant. This was the mid-eighties and we, as a society, were still in the dark ages with plenty of violence if that’s what you seeked. Violence has never been my cup of tea and I stayed clear.
Otis’s daughter (I believe her name, Delite) had a smash hit on the radio and she was the first performer to hit the stage. I remember her sounding fantastic thanks to the person running the soundboard. The soundboard was dialed in perfectly. She was well received by the crowd and exited the stage with a very wide smile.
With a relaxing brake between sets the paramedics caught up with the wounded. Newspapers reported several broken bones, bloody noses; dozens of bruised egos and one stabbing. Otis and his Posse stormed the stage, the crowd erupted. Personally I was stone straight having my fill of drinking the night before.
At that time I believe Otis was in his early forties. You younger folks would consider this age being the end of the road it wasn’t , Otis was in his prime and possibly at the height of his career in entertainment. On this day Otis was working the crowd and that large chrome microphone. I remember his performance vividly. Over the years some shows I remember and some I have completely forgotten this one stuck. He held that microphone like the Queens jewels and no one was going to steal it from him. Prior to the film being released Otis had a mildly successful career until Animal House was release this propelled him into the limelight. He was completely enjoining it and it showed during this performance. There is a real possibility that Otis was at the height of his career according to the amount of people that showed up at this concert there were thousands. All corners of that stage had been worked over by Otis and the Knights. He exited the set with a tremendous roar from the crowd, a day I and many thousands of others have never forgotten.
I have heard on the radio and other media outlets trash Otis as some kind of one hit wonder. Claiming he made a career out of one song, first lets get the facts straight Otis Day and the Knights had several hits as far radio airplay is concerned. One hit wonder is bullshit. This particular guest on a radio talk show is a piece of shit for talking like this. Some radio talk show host feel some psychological need to bad mouth every thing and every body they can to falsely promote their bullshit to fame. This type of daily negativity gets old real fast…
Otis and the Knights rode the wave of fame for years. That one song he so much wanted was his to keep. Thousands upon thousands of people who have seen Otis perform will confirm that Otis is a great entertainer. Otis Day and the Knights hit the stage with the jewels that shined loud and long for all to see. That one song that so many musician seek was his; not you, not me, not anybody was going to take it from him.
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