Otis Doncaster has been playing music in the Monadnock region since 1990. He has been a staple in the music scene for more than two decades playing with Otis and the Elevators, the Skip Philbrick Blues Band, and with Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson and the Magic Rockers.
Otis grew up listening to country, and rock, and was introduced to the blues in his late teens. He first started jamming weekly with other musicians in 1990, calling their group Blues Stew. They did their first gig at Alberto’s in Bennington in December of 1990. After learning about 45 songs they were ready to play around the Monadnock region. Their first gig was in 1993 at the Rynborn in Antrim as Otis and the Elevators. “We changed our name to Otis and the Elevators because I became the front man. And it was a play on words from the elevator company.”
Otis ran the jam at the Rynborn for over ten years. They were voted Favorite Blues Jam six times by Blues Audience newsletter. Part of these jams included legendary Chicago bluesman Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson, who had moved from the Windy City to New England and formed his band, the Magic Rockers. “Skip Philbrick and Peter Kabala got Luther to come to Rynborn and we would do weekly jams,” Otis recalls. “At the time I had been playing drums for three years for the Skip Philbrick Blues Band. Then in 1995, after playing drums with him all summer, Luther asked me to join the Magic Rockers as the drummer. I didn’t feel I was ready so I declined. But I told him if he wanted a harmonica player, call me. And twenty years later, he did. I’ve been playing harp with him for the past four years.”
Otis is the only original member of Otis and the Elevators. The current line-up includes Dave Brown on bass and vocals for 12 years, Jeremy Brown on piano for 15 years, CJ Chaplin on drums for five years, and Tom Wright, guitar player for four years, although he played for a year in 1999. “The band members are like family,” says Otis. “They are a talented band.” He describes the band’s genre of music as Americana – ranging from rock, bluegrass, and jazz to country, blues, and folk. “We notice who is in the crowd and play music we think they will like.” Many of the band’s gigs these days are benefits for people needing help with medical and living expenses due to illness, accidents or other circumstances. “I like to do benefits. I do them a lot; it’s a good way to use your talent to give back to the community. We love what we do so it’s not hard. And we get to see our friends in other bands and play with them.”
In 2012, Otis and the Elevators released Dark of the Night. All but two cuts are written by Otis or the band. In December of last year, the band recorded seven new tunes in Milford. It is currently in the mixing process.
April is a big month for both of Otis’ bands. On April 11, Luther Johnson will be celebrating his 75th birthday with the Magic Rockers and guests at the famed Chan’s in Woonsocket, RI, known for its fine line-up of local, national and international blues and jazz acts. Otis has his musical birthday celebration the following week, closer to home. “Luther and I are 20 years and one week apart," Otis observed. “Luther is my friend and musical father.” You can catch Otis and the Elevators on April 18 at the Tollbooth Tavern in Francestown. “Music is joy,” said Otis as we concluded the interview. “It has brought so much joy to my life. Please support live music in your community. Keep live music alive.” Check out, and Like Otis and Elevators on their Facebook page.
Lynn Merlone is the founder of Monadnotes, a website featuring musical offerings and opportunities in the Monadnock region.Here you find pages with descriptions of local musicians by genre; music venues and events; music instruction; open mics, jams and karaoke; and musical groups for you to join.The Event Calendar boasts the most complete listings of musical events in southwestern New Hampshire.VisitMonadnotes: Your Music Source for the Monadnock region