"I grew up on American music and that's where I've been influenced," says English singer/songwriter Ben Ottewell. "I really liked John Lee Hooker from an early age because my dad used to play me that all the time, and Elmore James is as good as it gets." This is to say nothing of his adoration for singers from Eddie Vedder to Nick Drake as a youngster in Derbyshire, England. Ottewell's college dissertation on postmodernity cited Beck's Odelay as primary source material.
It was a chance meeting with fellow musician Ian Ball in a pub in Sheffield in 1996 that led Ottewell to join Gomez, the acclaimed band that has made Ottewell's one of rock's more distinct and unique voices. The two jammed on songs by Tim Buckley, Miles Davis and The Doors -- and as soon as Ball heard Ottewell sing, the five-man Gomez lineup that continues to this day was solidified.
The rest of the world shared in this awe at Ottewell's gravelly, bluesy pipes, as Gomez's debut album went on to win the U.K.'s prestigious Mercury Music Prize. In one early profile, Rolling Stone declared, "Gomez's not-so-secret weapon is Ben Ottewell. His deep, raspy voice is spine chilling... more like an otherworldly bluesman than a baby-faced Brit."
While Gomez is a three-singer band, Ottewell's powerful tenor has graced many fan favorites, from early songs like "Get Miles" and "Make No Sound" to this year's "How We Operate" and "See The World" (not to mention his rendition of the Beatles' "Getting Better," heard by many in a ubiquitous Phillips Electronics ad several years back). And his fluid slide guitar and bold electric leads also play a strong role in defining Gomez's musical identity.
Now Ottewell steps out for the first time for a run of solo gigs, mixing Gomez songs (some of which he doesn't typically sing with the band) with a range of eclectic covers, which in the past have included Tom Waits' "Cold Water," Tunng's "Song of the Sea" and the Proclaimers "Sunshine on Leith," among others.