Roots of the Otis Brothers

The Otis Brothers - R. Crumb
(The Otis Brother’s first album cover, artwork by R. Crumb)

Todays show features a selection of the original recordings which influenced Queens, NY based blues/pre-blues string band, The Otis Brothers. These guys have listened to a lot of music! An hours worth of their influences provide a listening pleasure and real education in early blues and stringband music captured on commercial 78 rpm records and field recordings. The picture of early blues music painted by a sampling the Otis Brothers influences is a remarkable one. There was so much more to play than there was time for on this one program, but hopefully this is a good sample. Be sure to check out the previous episode of Down Home Radio; an interview with the Otis Brothers.

Also, click the 2nd play button above to hear a mini episode featuring Pat Conte’s commentary on “The Lonely Cowboy,” the only song recorded by cowboy singer and musical singularity Arthur Miles, back in 1927. He sings, yodels, and then something else. Is it throat singing or humming and whistling?!? Hear what Pat Conte has to say, then you decide!

See below for a track listing from todays program as well as a list of recommendations on more music to listen to:


Otis Brothers Illustrated Discography

Secret Museum of the Air – Online archives of Pat Conte’s old radio show on WFMU w/ Citizen Kafka. Incredible stuff, every show is awesome.

Secret Museum of Mankind – CD series edited by Pat Conte. My favorite CD series!

Secret Museum of Mankind – The book Pat Conte got the name from. Its all online!

Before the Blues Vol. 1-3 – If you like the stuff I played on the show today, you must get copies of this awesome CD series on Yazoo Records. It runs a close second to Pat’s series.

Check out this video: This guy does a damn good version of Arthur Miles’ Lonely Cowboy.  The throat singing doesn’t sound quite the same as whatever Miles is doing, but the guy in this video is a good throat singer.  Is Miles really throat singing?

Tracks played on today’s episode:

1. 44 Blues – Butch Cage & Willie B. Thomas, Country Negro Jam Session
2. Baby Please Don´t Go – Butch Cage & Willie B. Thomas, Country Negro Jam Session
3. The Blood-Stained Banders – Jimmie Strothers, Afro-American Spirituals, Work Songs, And Ballads
4. Do Lord Remember Me – Jimmie Strothers & Joe Lee, Field Recordings : Vol. 1-Virginia
5. Cripple Creek – Jimmie Strothers, Black Appalachia
6. Corn-Shucking Time – Jimmie Strothers, Deep River of Song: Virginia & The Piedmont
7. Run Down Eli – Jimmie Strothers & Joe Lee, Field Recordings : Vol. 1-Virginia
8. Some of These Days – The Otis Brothers, Live at Banjo Jim’s June 9th 2007 (on
9. Joe Turner Blues – Muddy Waters, Can’t Be Satisfied
10. Some These Days – Charley Patton, The Definitive Charley Patton (Disc Two)
11. Farrell Blues – The Otis Brothers, Let’s Go To Hunting, The Return Of The Otis Brothers
12. Farrell Blues – Charley Patton, The Definitive Charley Patton (Disc Three)
13. Come On, Boys, And Let’s Go Hunting – The Otis Brothers, Let’s Go To Hunting, The Return Of The Otis Brothers
14. Come On Boys And Let’s Go To Hunting – Henry Truvillion, Deep River of Song: Black Texicans, Balladeers & Songsters of the Texas Frontier
15. Umakotshaha- John Bhengu, Secret Museum Of Mankind Vol. 2
16. I’m Gonna Live So God Can Use Me – Blind Benny Paris & Wife, DOCD 5101
17. Relax Your Mind – Leadbelly, Leadbelly’s Last Sessions (Disc 2)
18. What Are They Doing In Heaven Today? – Washington Phillips,
19. Canned Heat Blues – Tommy Johnson,
20. Sow Good Seeds – Lil McClintock, Goodbye, Babylon (Disc 1)
21. Texas Tony – Yank Rachell, Yank Rachell’s Tennessee Jug-Busters
22. God Don’t Never Change – Blind Willie Johnson, The Guitar Evangelists: CD C
23. Cairo Blues – Henry Spaulding,
24. Down On Me – Eddie Head And His Family, American Primitive Vol. I: Raw Pre-War Gospel

Jimmie Strothers and Joe Lee recording in 1936:
(Joe Lee appears to be beating straws on the guitar and singing as Jimmie Strothers plays)Jimmie Strothers and Joe Lee

Jimmie Strothers and Joe Lee

More information on throat singing from the archives at:

Global Sound - Musical Treasures of the World


Throat-singing, a guttural style of singing or chanting, is one of the world’s oldest forms of music. For those who think the human voice can produce only one note at a time, the resonant harmonies of throat-singing are surprising. In throat-singing, a singer can produce two or more notes simultaneously through specialized vocalization technique taking advantage of the throat’s resonance characteristics. By precise movements of the lips, tongue, jaw, velum, and larynx, throat-singers produce unique harmonies using only their bodies. Throat-singing is most identified with parts of Central Asia, but it is also practiced in northern Canada and South Africa where the technique takes on different styles and meanings.Tuva
Tuva is a predominantly rural region of Russia located northwest of Mongolia. There, throat-singing is called Khöömei. Singers use a form of circular breathing which allows them to sustain multiple notes for long periods of time. Young Tuvan singers are trained from childhood through a sort of apprentice system to use the folds of the throat as reverberation chambers. Throat-singing in Tuva is almost exclusively practiced by men, although the taboo against women throat-singers, based on the belief that such singing may cause infertility, is gradually being abandoned, and some girls are now learning and performing Khöömei. The Tuvan herder/hunter lifestyle, with its reliance on the natural world and deeply-felt connection to the landscape, is reflected in this Tuvan vocal tradition. With their throat-singing, Tuvans imitate sounds of the natural surroundings–animals, mountains, streams, and the harsh winds of the steppe. Throat-singing was once only a folk tradition, practiced in the windy steppe, but it is now embraced as an emblem of Tuvan identity and more often performed by professionals in formal settings.

Click for Track Details Steppe Kargiraa
performed by Fedor Tau (Tuva Republic, Russia)

Click for Track Details Xöömei on Horseback
performed by Kaigal-ool Khovalyg, Anatoli Kuular (Russia)

Click for Track Details Sigit “Alash”
performed by Mergen Mongush (Russia)

Click for Track Details Medley of various throat-singing styles
performed by Ensemble “Amirak” (Russia)

The Inuit are the indigenous peoples of northern Canada. Unlike Tuvan throat-singing, the Inuit form of throat-singing is practiced almost exclusively by women. It is also a more communal form of singing than the Tuvan variety, usually performed in groups of two or more women. Their technique relies more on short, sharp, rhythmic inhalations and exhalations of breath. It was traditionally used to sing babies to sleep or in games women played during the long winter nights while the men were away hunting. Throat-singing was banned in the area over 100 years ago by local Christian priests, but it is experiencing a recent revival, especially among younger generations who believe that learning it from their elders connects them with Inuit strength and tradition.

Click for Track Details Ah hum mum ma
performed by Tudjaat

Girl’s Game
performed by Angutnak and Matee (Canada)

Click for Track Details Humma ha ba ba
performed by Tudjaat

The Xhosa people of Bantu origins are indigenous to present-day southeast South Africa. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu are famous Xhosa. The Xhosa people have a deep and unique style of throat singing, also called eefing. Two notes are produced one tone apart while higher tones embedded in overtones are amplified simultaneously. This low, rhythmic, wordless vocal style accompanies traditional call and response or group vocal songs. It also accompanies party songs and dances, adding a musical element that is distinctly Xhosa.

Click for Track Details Yizane Mbiza
performed by Group of young boys of Durban Location (South Africa)

Click for Track Details Nganibonge Amakentani
performed by Thombi Fegetwai and Gcaleka boys and girls (South Africa)

Click for Track Details Nongelema Mufana Obetele
performed by Group of Xhosa men and women (South Africa)


N. Sengedorj of Mongolia demonstrates Khöömei throat-singing.

Source: 768k Quicktime Video, 54s.

Mark van Tongeren, an ethnomusicologist specializing in Khöömei, gives a lesson.

Source: 768k Quicktime Video, 3m 1s.

Nukariik (Inuit) Sisters Karin and Kathy Kettler demonstrate traditional Inuit throat singing.

Source: 512k Quicktime Video, 2m 40s.


Radio Throat Singing
Listen to a stream of throat-singing Tuvans recreating the sounds of their natural surroundings.

Explore more vocalizations from around the world on Smithsonian Global Sound.


  1. That’s fantastic. It’s hard to believe that there’s still bits and pieces of information on Miles. Thank goodness it’s out there. Great show. Keep up the good work!

  2. Sorry to disagree with Mr. Conte, but Arthur Miles was overtone singing but not what is referred to as throat-singing. Unlike sygyt, he doesn’t use the laryngeal techniques that the central Asian singers use. While Miles sang his overtones quite nicely, he was hardly a “throat-singing master.”

    Still a wonderful example of the genre, and the earliest known recording of overtone singing, predating the earliest known recordings from Tuva or Mongolia.

    You can hear much more at my website: and at

    Steve Sklar

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