To commemorate 40 years since releasing his last album, Inspiration Information, Shuggie Otis pairs the reissued classic with Wings of Love, a new collection of unreleased recordings made during the decades he searched for a record deal. Otis spoke with Billboard about that constant search, the basement that made him famous, and the catch-22 with his song “Strawberry Letter 23.”
Q: At what point did you realize Wings of Love should see the light of day? When did it feel right?
A: Well, it felt right right after I recorded it. You change as you grow older: your mind changes, your body changes, everything changes. I guess your tastes change, too. And you don’t want to go repeat yourself. I won’t try to write a song until I hear something in my head or I’m practicing and a song comes out of it.
Read more from Shuggie Otis’ interview with Billboard.
The sound of Shuggie Otis feels like nothing you’ve heard before and yet it’s magically familiar – a warm, psychedelic soul/blues that has infused masses of modern r’n’b, hip hop, pop and funk. His songs have yielded smash-hit covers (The Brother Johnson’s 1977 version of his gorgeous “Strawberry Letter 23” later soundtracked a Coke advert) and countless samples by the likes of Outkast, J Dilla and Beyoncé. Otis’s high-profile fans have included BB King, Prince and The Roots’ main man Questlove, who noted: “His music is so potent that it only blossomed 30 years after it was first released.”
The man himself – born Johnny Alexander Veliotes Jr in LA, 1953 – also seems to be blossoming again. Otis was a child prodigy singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist consigned to unsung hero status, despite creating three classic albums: 1969 debut Here Comes Shuggie Otis; Freedom Flight (1971); and Inspiration Information (1974). He was barely out of his teens and planning his fourth LP when he was dropped by his label.
Decades of apparent silence followed but he’s back on the road again and about to release Wings Of Love, an album of excellent unheard tracks, along with an expanded reissue of Inspiration Information.
Read more at Metro.co.uk.
This week the first new music in almost 40 years will arrive from Shuggie Otis, one of the more enigmatic figures in pop music history. The album, Wings of Love (Epic/Legacy), with 14 previously unreleased tracks, is being packaged alongside a reissue of his previous and most celebrated recording, Inspiration Information, from 1974.
In the years between these records his ethereal, psychedelic-tinged funk influenced artists like Prince and D’Angelo and has been sampled by OutKast and Beyoncé. Yet as the decades passed he released nothing and seldom performed, even as his reputation as a brilliant recluse — an R&B Brian Wilson or Syd Barrett — steadily grew. “I never hid,” Mr. Otis said. “There’s a misconception that I actually quit, but I always wanted to work.”
Dressed in a suit, fedora and scarf, all grays and off-whites, at a recent interview at his record label’s office in Manhattan, Mr. Otis, 59, was personable and talkative for a legendary loner. He was still excited about his show the previous night at the Highline Ballroom. “It was overwhelming,” he said. “I never played New York on this level, as far as Shuggie Otis being presented like a star. Last night was one of my all-time favorites.”
Shuggie Otis was recently interviewed by SPIN about his upcoming album, Inspiration Information/Wings Of Love, to be released April 16th. Here is an excerpt:
Were you always aware that, even though it didn’t sell when the album was released, there was a small group of people that cared passionately about Inspiration Information?
Since the late ’70s, I had a feeling that one day that album would be re-released, and I thought it would be Sony. It turned out to be Luaka Bop [David Byrne’s label also reissued the album in 2001], and now it is gonna be Sony. When it first came out again the response did surprise me. I think it sold 7,000 copies the first week, which is not bad for somebody who — a lot of people didn’t know who I was. Kids all of a sudden liked the music as well, which surprised me. I didn’t think kids would like that type of music. But little did I know: Music is music. All kids aren’t the same, and all record buyers aren’t the same. The major label record buyers who make people famous are not the same as the people who were buying my record years later.
Read more about Shuggie Otis at SPIN.