Shuggie Otis was in excellent form Wednesday in front of a full house. Long gone is the extravagant Afro he sported in the ‘70s, but there was still a touch of flamboyance as frilly shirt sleeves spilled from beneath his black jacket. He was supported by a seven-piece band that included his brother Nick on drums and his son Eric on guitar. But the dominant feature of the lineup was a three-piece horn section, which gave much of the set a brassy R&B swagger that Johnny Otis surely would have loved.
The set was about evenly divided between blues songs and Inspiration Information-era tracks. The more traditional material, including a cover of Gene Barge’s “Me and My Woman,” the simmering “Sweet Thang” and “Picture of Love,” allowed Otis to repay his debt to Chicago blues. The formidable skills he flashed as a teenage guitar prodigy remained intact: his patience, his acutely bittersweet tone, the way he structured his solos to suggest a story rather than just a blur of notes.
Photo credit: Shuggie Otis performs on stage at the Jazz Cafe last year in London. (Caitlin Mogridge, Redferns via Getty Images)
Shuggie Otis’ Inspiration Information/Wings Of Love is available now and both fans and music critics are loving it! Here are some excerpts:
You’ll especially be interested in this new Legacy set, which with its second disc Wings Of Love offers up 14 tracks that will remind you that when it comes to humans fully capable of mixing up blues, R&B, rock and pop in ways heretofore unheard, Shuggie Otis was — and is — one very amazing artist. A worthy reissue, a great reminder of a very talented player, and one of the very best things you’ll hear this year, Inspiration Information/Wings Of Love will very likely knock you out. – Yahoo! Music
The 17 “new” tracks … show that Shuggie’s space-age take on black music did not stagnate in 1974. “Fireball of Love” starts with a Carlos Santana blues flourish, then mutates into a pulsating funk workout, the work of an astonishingly tight and well-rehearsed band who’ve achieved an almost psychic degree of interplay. It is, of course, all played by just one man, multi-tasking on bubbly Hammond, jangly piano, incendiary blues guitar and busy bass. Rating: 9/10 – UNCUT
The son of r’n’b bandleader Johnny Otis, Shuggie Otis spent his childhood soaking up soul, blues and rock influences. His greatest achievement remains 1974’s often-sampled psychedelic soul masterpiece Inspiration Information, here repackaged with an extra disc of pieces recorded since then, which show his abilities undiminished by age. Five stars. – The Independent
This two-disc reissue prises open Shuggie’s studio door, excavating over an album’s worth of unreleased material that’s accumulated over the intervening decades, under the title Wings Of Love. The title track, recorded in 1990, soars for 11 minutes as Shuggie proves why he’s hailed as one of the most talented musicians of his age. Four stars. – Record Collector
Shuggie Otis’s shot at redemption is a long time coming. The guitarist, singer, songwriter and son of famed bandleader Johnny Otis isn’t a household name, though at various points in the past 40 years it seemed he was on the cusp of being one — only to slip through the cracks of the music industry, and then out of it altogether. Still, among a devoted legion of fans he is a cult icon thanks to his virtuosity and the self-styled strain of R&B he developed in the early 1970s.
But he never stopped making music, and this week Sony’s Legacy Recordings is reissuing the most critically acclaimed of Mr. Otis’s three albums, 1974’s Inspiration Information, as well as a new disc of unreleased songs, Wings of Love, that he recorded live and in the studio between 1975 and 2000.
Accordingly, the Los Angeles area-based musician, who is 59, is trying to make up for lost time. In recent months he has promoted his new discs in Mexico City, Europe, Australia and Japan, and this week he’ll perform three shows in New York — at B.B. King’s Blues Club on Thursday and Saturday, and the Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday.
Shuggie Otis gave a radio interview tonight, airing on 93.9 FM WNYC and 101.9 FM WDET (in Detroit). If you missed the interview, you can check it out at Soundcheck (WNYC Radio).