Sunday, December 30, 2018

"Crazy Otto's Back in Town"


Although I should perhaps resent the correct implication that I'm crazy, I was thrilled to receive this groovy Christmas gift — sent through the U.S. Postal Service!1 It's the 60-year-old vinyl sleeve to the 1958 album Crazy Otto's Back In Town. On it, Crazy Otto is dangling from a rope ladder, dressed like he's on his way to Passamaquoddy. The Decca Records cover (DL 8627) proclaims, "43 Favorite Songs 43 Honkytonk Piano."

I don't believe I'm any relation to Crazy Otto, though I suspect an ninth-cousin situation2 is always possible. But who was he?

His real name was Fritz Schulz-Reichel, and he was a German musician who lived from 1912 to 1990. Here's an excerpt from his biography by Bruce Eder on AllMusic.com:
"He became a light jazz performer known for his unusual, often comical improvisations built on popular melodies, and began building a reputation akin to Victor Borge3 ... but anchored in popular, as opposed to classical, music. ... In 1953, Schulz-Reichel took on the performing identity of Crazy Otto and made records for Deutsche Grammophon, either solo or with a small rhythm group backing him up, consisting of originals and improvisations on established popular tunes."
Discogs appears to have the most complete discography for Schulz-Reichel/Crazy Otto that I could find. Here are some notes from the back cover of Crazy Otto's Back in Town:
"This fascinating album displays the extraordinary talent of Crazy Otto in a collection of well known tunes ... some, old beloved standards like 'Cruising Down The River', 'Bill Bailey', and 'Auf Weidersehen' ... others, current favorites such as 'Dungaree Doll'.4 Old or new, however, they are interpreted in the infectious style that has made the name Crazy Otto synonymous with great piano entertainment. ... The 'tipsy wire box', with which he creates the unusual 'beer hall piano' sound, is his own secret invention."
To complicate matters, there was (sort of) more than one Crazy Otto. Wikipedia states that "in 1955, American musician Johnny Maddox played a medley of his songs, entitled 'The Crazy Otto Medley'; this went to #2 on the U.S. charts, and in the U.S. both Reichel and Maddox were subsequently known as 'Crazy Otto', to some confusion."

Here's a fun illustration from the back of the LP...


And here's a closer look at Schulz-Reichel/Crazy Otto, who was clearly in disguise. Most other photos show him clean-shaven.


Footnotes
1. I am told the postal workers were a little grumpy about processing it.
2. Google says: No results found for "ninth-cousin situation".
3. My mother, grandmother and I loved watching Victor Borge performances on TV. Later, Sarah got a kick out of some of his YouTube videos.
4. "Dungaree Doll" was sung by Eddie Fisher, the father of Princess Leia.

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