The first time I heard Doug Otto was at the Vieux Carre in downtown St Paul, during an all-star blues revue night led by longtime friend and blues harp player Harold Tremblay. Harold had come to my Schooner gig and mentioned the night in question, telling me (for the umpteenth time) not to miss one of the special guests, local musician and vocalist Doug Otto. I decided this time I should probably go, and although I struggled with the timing (I work a full-time day job in retail), I finally hauled myself out there, alone, to savor some music and scope out the venue, which was new to me.
Vieux Carre is a posh speakeasy-esque jazz bar with nice sound and lighting. I felt comfortable as soon as I walked in, even I didn't know a soul except for a couple of people playing. I sat at the bar and ordered, and listened almost absent-mindedly to the great music coming from the stage. I was used to the fact that you could count on Harold when it came to these types of nights. Then suddenly, I heard something that made drop every other thought. One of the musicians was playing slide on a fender stratocaster and singing, and it was the most powerfully beautiful thing I'd ever heard. And tasteful. The overall talent and control of this singer/guitar player was unreal. The song ended and the performers descended the stage and came to the bar where I was sitting, and I turned to the person and told him: "Hi. You don't know me, but you are my favorite musician. I want to come to every single one of your gigs. Also, I grew up in Italy and missed out on a lot of American music/culture, so if you could tell me what you listen to, that would be great." Something of the sort.
The fellow in question was as kind and gracious as could be, and a couple of days later I went to see him play at Dusty's bar in northeast Minneapolis, a weekly gig he had been doing for six years. When I walked in, during his second set, he saw me and immediately said "here's one for Hilary", and started playing "Nobody Knows You when You're Down and Out" (the night at the Vieux Carre had ended with me singing that song onstage with Harold and the band). I was moved by the welcome, and by the warmth with which he introduced me to audience members and musicians alike that night. We became fast friends.
The next night, a Monday, I ventured out again, this time to the 331 Club. I had been (and played) there years before thanks to Harold Tremblay, who, besides being a renown harmonica player, hosts a blues show on KFAI radio called "House Party", showcasing bands on his show and at the 331. Doug Otto plays the 331 every Monday from 10 to midnight. Such a late slot, but it's worth it. I witnessed one of the best concerts I'd ever seen, a golden voice soaring through beautiful blues and country songs and originals, with the most badass band I'd ever heard. It was so tight, they sounded so comfortable together. It was unbelievably good. I got more and more excited.
To make a long story short, Doug and I became friends, and agreed to do a benefit gig not long after we met. In rehearsing, we discovered we have a love and appreciation for a lot of the same music. Not only that, our voices sound great together!
So we're venturing out this summer as a duo (reinforced by some fantastic musicians) and seeing where it leads. I am over the moon, because honestly, a singing partner this good is a once-in-a-billion find.
We're playing May 31st at Como Lakeside Pavilion in St Paul (7-9pm, a nice spring outdoor evening concert, if the weather blesses us). If you have the chance, please come and see us!
And stay tuned for more updates.
Posted on Wed, April 3, 2019
by Hilary Thavis