Many know of New Hampshire harmonica player and vocalist Otis Doncaster from his band Otis And The Elevators. Many know of him from his decades long association with legendary blues man Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson, a one time Muddy Waters sideman from an earlier era in the blues music. Many may not know, however, how diverse Doncaster is in his musical tastes and how much of a multi-instrumentalist he’s been over the years. The blues, country, roots, Americana music many have seen him perform over the years is simply his expression of the music he heard growing up in northern New England.
Doncaster lived hs first five years in the NEK, north east kingdom of Vermont, growing up on a 500 acre dairy farm. His family next moved to Orange, Massachusetts. When he was at the tender age of nine, his mother remarried and the new family moved, in 1968, to Antrim, New Hampshire. Doncaster graduated from ConVal Regional High School in Peterborough, New Hampshire in 1977.
In love with all kinds of music and musical expressions, Doncaster’s latest project is the Clavis Brudon Band, a singing group with no drums. It consists of Doncaster, Stephen Clarke from The Installers, and two other members of The Installers. “Stephen Clarke and I became good friends and wanted to do a band,” Doncaster said. “We are getting more gigs everyday. Folks seem to like what we do.”
Doncaster, aside from fronting his own Otis And The Elevators band, also plays harmonica and sings backing vocals for the legendary Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson in Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson and the Magic Rockers. Doncaster joined Johnson’s band 15 years after his initial invitation and after 20 years of friendship with the older, storied blues man.
“I first played drums for Luther in the Summer of 95,” Doncaster recalled. “He asked me to join the band as his drummer, but I declined. It took me 15 more years to get the job I wanted, as his harp player. Luther has been sticking pretty close to home for the last five years. We still play all his stops, Chan’s, Iron Horse, Bull Run.”
Johnson is moving to Florida this May. He plans on playing up here in New England during the Summer months. Doncaster met his friend Johnson at the old Rynborn blues venue in Antrim, New Hampshire way back in 1990 after seeing, four years earlier, Johnson opening for Stevie Ray Vaughn. Many are unsure how much backstage responsibility Doncaster has for the Magic Rockers.
“I call Luther my Musical Dad,” he exclaim. “No, I’m not the Manager, but I do book.” Doncaster continued with “I have always laughed about how the blues came to me. Rynborn and then Luther moving here. Rynborn was a gem. Luther was a second gem. It is amazing how blues can end up in places where you’d never expect them to.”
Doncaster came to play the harmonica through a circuitous router. Harmonica was on his list of instruments to learn but was not his first love. Saxophone came first. Then, he dabbled in guitar before settling on drums.
I love Melody,” Doncaster said. .“I would bang out tunes on the piano. Harp became an interest after hearing Magic Dick. Like I said, I love melody and found my axe. My dad’s brothers’ family all play music. I am the only one in mine. My dad had another brother that everyone called a musical genius. He was blind and crippled. I never met him.”
Doncaster, a teenaged jock who captained his high school soccer team, ran track, and excelled at skiing, has had the desire to play as early as high school. But, as a youth, he didn’t have the kind of teacher he would have needed to teach him the kind of music he had wanted to play. He ended up not becoming a professional musician until he was well into his 30s.
“I did have stage fright as a young man,” he said. “I played my first gig on Dec 23rd 1990, with my first band Blue Stew. I was the main singer; not much harp. I have no formal musical training.”
Born out of Doncaster’s Blue Stew experience was Otis An The Elevators. Doncaster is the only original member from the Otis And The Elevators that began playing out in 1993.
“My key man has been with me for over 20 years, bass man for 16,“ Doncaster said. “We switched from blues and R&B to Americana in 04.We have over 400 songs in our book.
I have done more in music than I ever thought I could. My goal is to make folks happy and have fun. Music is joy.”