October 28, 2021

Otis Day & the Knights

Otis Day & the Knights are an R&B group that originated in the 1978 comedy classic Animal House, a spoof of college fraternity life set in 1962. They are known for the two songs they perform in the movie: the 1959 Isley Brothers hit “Shout” and the doowop-y “Shama Lama Ding Dong,” written for the movie by composer and producer Mark Davis.

DeWayne Jessie played Otis in the movie, lip-syncing to recordings by singer Lloyd G. Williams from the Motown act the Undisputed Truth. Part of Universal Studios’ stable of character actors, Jessie had previously appeared in such movies as Car Wash and Thank God It’s Friday and had won the NCAA Image Award — Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings. The Knights were portrayed by blues guitarist Robert Cray, today a five-time Grammy Award winner, and his band at the time. (Cray plays bass in the movie.)

The fictional Otis Day & the Knights crossed over into the real world after Animal House hit big at the box office. Not long after the movie’s release, its producers encouraged Jessie to tour as Otis—though he hadn’t actually sung the songs on the soundtrack. Over the next year, he performed at more than 260 colleges, nightclubs and theaters and played to some 375,000 people during a Mardi Gras show in Galveston, Tex.

Jessie later purchased the rights to the name and put together a group including L.A. studio musicians and his nephew and niece on backing vocals. In 1985, the reconstituted Otis Day & the Knights launched the never-ending “Toga Party Tour,” playing to toga-clad revelers across the country on the college and club circuits. A document of the tour survives in the 1987 home video release Otis!, My Man!, recorded at the University of Southern California the year before. Here, you can watch college students dressed in sheets doing 1960s dances like the Swim, the Monkey and the Pony as Otis and the band tear through songs from the Animal House soundtrack and other Rock & Roll favorites.

(For those keeping track: 1986 was the same year Robert Cray had a Top 20 hit with his album Strong Persuader and a Top 30 hit on the Hot 100 singles chart with the song “Smoking Gun.”)

Discography

Animal House (Music from the Motion Picture) (1978)
Shout (1989)

Videography

Otis!, My Man! (1987)

Photos