Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Just Like Crazy Otto: Johnny Maddox Wins Governor's Arts Award

Posted By on Tue, Mar 8, 2011 at 10:53 AM

Johnny Maddox performing in 1985

Earlier today, The Tennessee Arts Commission announced the recipients of the Governor's Arts Awards, and among the winners was longtime Gallatin resident Johnny Maddox, aka Crazy Otto. Though his name may be familiar to a few readers, it's a good bet most Middle Tennesseans (including this writer) had no clue there's a legendary and esteemed member of the ragtime piano royalty living in their midst.

Maddox got his start while he was working at Randy's Record Shop in Gallatin. Owner Randy Wood launched Dot Records in 1950, and Maddox was his first artist — his first single, "Crazy Bone Rag" backed with "St. Louis Tickle," sold over 22,000 copies in five weeks. In 1954, Maddox recorded "The Crazy Otto Medley," which spent 14 weeks at the top of the charts and became the first all-piano record to sell over 1 million copies. (It eventually sold over 2 million.) Dot was eventually acquired by MCA, and Maddox continued to record, 50 albums and 90 singles in all, with nine gold singles and over 11 million in total record sales. He even has a star on Hollywood Boulevard.

Maddox, who's now 83 years old and still performs, was even name-checked (by his nickname) in Hoagy Carmichael's "Crazy Otto Rag," and in the Grateful Dead's "Ramble on Rose," in a verse familiar to Deadheads, even if they didn't get the reference:

I'm gonna sing you a hundred verses in ragtime
I know this song, it ain't never gonna end
Gonna march you up and down along the county line
Take you to the leader of the band

Just like Crazy Otto, just like Wolfman Jack
Sittin' plush with a royal flush, aces back to back

Maddox isn't the only notable Middle Tennessean to win a Governor's Award. More after the jump ...

Nashville's revered W.O. Smith School, which offers music lessons to children from low-income families for the nominal fee of 50 cents, won an Arts Leadership Award. Murfreesboro's Thomas Maupin, a self-taught, traditional buck dancer carrying on the multigenerational legacy of his family’s old-time dance style, won a Folklife Heritage Award. And Estelle Condra, a professional actor, storyteller, teacher and writer who has been legally blind since childhood, won a Distinguished Artist Award.

Buck dancer Thomas Maupin

Estelle Condra performing at the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2008

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