Shuggie Otis has been on the edge of worldwide stardom. His late father, the R&B legend Johnny Otis, is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Otis’ most ardent fans consider his brief late-’60s and early-’70s recording career to have produced works on par with those of Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix.
There was his debut Here Comes Shuggie Otis (1970) and Freedom Flight in 1971. His best-known song, 1971’s “Strawberry Letter 23” was on his 1974 release Inspiration Information. Shortly after the release of that album, Otis was approached to join the Rolling Stones on their world tour, but declined. “Strawberry Letter 23” was covered by The Brothers Johnson, whose 1977 hit was in turn sampled heavily in the 2001 OutKast gem “Ms. Jackson.” Inspiration Information was reissued on David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label back in 2001, in the wake of renewed interest in “Strawberry Letter 23.”
The exciting news is that Inspiration Information is being reissued in a deluxe two-disc package on April 16.
The original album took three years to record, in part because Otis insisted on playing and singing every part himself. But the work itself — a sublime mix of psychedelia, blues, pop and soul — possesses a dreamy quality that’s intoxicating and untethered to any era. The deluxe version features an entire additional 69-minute album called Wings of Love, which samples a cross-section of Otis’ unreleased recordings between 1975 and 2000.
I was inducted into Shuggie live at Bluesfest recently where he played two sets. Some wise and knowing friends were disappointed with his band during the first outing, apparently less than tight and harmonious. I therefore ventured to the front ready for his second set (the following day) with some trepidation. The band took a long time to set up and I couldn’t help but notice a little tension between band members in the preliminaries. But once they started, any doubts were blown away. Tight, funky, powerful, inspiring. It was a supreme set which left me wanting to hear more and learn more about this enigmatic artist.
Photos below by Jim Jacob from that set.
In the set, I recall they played a number of songs from Inspiration Information – “Aht Uh Mi Hed”, “Sweet Thang”, “Sparkle City”, “Strawberry Letter 23” and the title track.
I am going to rush to my favourite record store and get myself some more Shuggie education on Independent Record Store Day – 20 April.