“There are artists that I play that weren’t popular at the time, that I play now more than current artists, Shuggie Otis, I suggest you go look up Shuggie Otis.”– Jay-Z
How Did I Get Here?
First, I’ll start by saying, of course I was spending a Monday night in quarantine watching Jay-Z interviews. As a result, I stumbled upon an interview Jay had done at, I believe, Columbia University. Briefly during the interview Hov was expressing that, as an artist you have to have this certain knowing. A certain belief in yourself and that what you’re creating is the right thing for you. Although it may not work today or tomorrow, someday it will be recognized for what it truly is.
Who Is Shuggie Otis?
Born on November 30, 1953 in Los Angeles, California Shuggie became the son of The Godfather of R&B, Johnny Otis. Shuggie eventually would grow into his own style and take on his own legacy.
Born into the music industry, Shuggie started playing the guitar at the age of two. He began performing professionally by the age of 11 with his father’s band. Often, Shuggie would have to wear dark shades and a false mustache just to be able to perform in after-hours nightclubs.
Otis took inspiration from other artists popular with his generation such as Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone and Arthur Lee. Otis’ music would later be defined as Psychedelic Soul, Funk, Rock, Jazz, Blues and R&B.
What should I listen to? Why?
The first album I would recommend listening to is his second studio album “Freedom Flight“ (1971). This album contains the original version of his song “Strawberry Letter 23”. The Brothers Johnson band covered “Strawberry Letter 23” six years later in 1977 for their album “Right On Time” and went on to peak at #5 on Billboard’s Top 100 chart.
*I hope my boy Shuggie got a check for that!*
“Strawberry Letter 23” is a really dope record. The concept of the song is that a couple is exchanging love letters between each other using music. For instance, Shuggie references “Strawberry Letter 22” in the chorus instead of the title because “Strawberry Letter 23” is his reply.
“Strawberry Letter 23” is featured in two Quentin Tarantino films , Pulp Fiction (1994) and Jackie Brown (1997).
My favorite song off of this album has to be “Sweet Thang”. It has sort of a grittiness sound to it. The guitar riff in the chorus punches you directly in the gut. This song can take over you if you let it. “Sweet Thang” has an addictive bounce, with instrumentation that has your ear discovering a fresh element every time you listen to the song.
Few songs created in the 70’s can really resonate with my generation but this one STICKS.
–Inspiration Information/Wings Of Love
Next, I would definitely take a listen to the double CD re-release of “Inspiration Information/Wings of love”. This is the project that solidifies his legendary status.
Originally, “Inspiration Information” was released in 1974 as Shuggies third studio album. Then, re-released in 2001, and finally re-released again in 2013 along with “Wings Of Love”. Side B, “Wings of love“, is a collective of unreleased studio and live recordings created from 1975-2000.
The original release of “Inspiration Information” in 1974 was the most significant project of Otis’ career. The reasoning behind that statement is because this was the first album Shuggie was able to create as an adult and was able to oversee the album himself.
Due to this change, Otis began the use of analog drum machines which were used by few other artists at the time. It gave the album a very new and fresh “Electric” sound. This brings me right back to Jay-Z’s original point.
“Inspiration Information” was in no way a great commercial success in 1974, peaking at #56 on the US R&B chart. Luaka Bop, a worldwide music-orientated record label, re-released the album in 2001. This release allowed the album to receive its, 30 years overdue, recognition.
Songs such as “Aht Uh Mi Head”, “XL-30”, and “Pling” were just glimpses into the future, only took 30 years to finally realize it. Kind of reminds me of an “808s and Heartbreaks” type of album growth. Even if the music isn’t for you, you can still appreciate the artistry and attention to detail that was put forth on the album.
Why Do I Consider Him A Legend?
Shuggie is an artist that is well known for his independence. Over his career he has had countless offers to work with different bands and artists. The Rolling Stones, had asked him to come on tour as their lead guitarist, Otis declined. He also declined the opportunity to work on an album with the great Quincy Jones, who’s career has expanded over 60 years with 80+ grammy nominations.
My point is that Shuggie never sold his soul. He never changed what he wanted to do. Not for money, not for recognition, not for anything. He never compromised his art, that’s true love and passion.
Otis was able to create new sounds while continuing to stem from his roots in an era where you didn’t see or hear anything like that, BY HIMSELF. You don’t have to be a Jazz or R&B expert to be able to appreciate his music, and identify his impact on the genre and artists to come.
Shuggie Otis’ career is not a typical path artists travel while attempting to become a legend, but in my eyes, it’s the one that took him there. Otis’ music will live on forever and continue to be an inspiration and influence on future genres and artists to come.
Jay-Z said that “being an artist you have to have a certain knowing, or belief in what you do”. Shuggie Otis is 100% the definition of that and, in my opinion, is enough to solidify his greatness.
I hope you enjoyed reading my post about Shuggie Otis and I hope that I’ve put you on to something new and exciting! If you did check out Otis’ discography let me know what you think in the comments!
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Kev Clark HD