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Shuggie Otis has collaborated with some of the biggest names in soul, funk and rock, he’s worked with artists like Mos Def and Frank Zappa and his music has been sampled by legends in their own right like J Dilla.
However, it was his first foray into the music world that interested us most. Shuggie was kind enough to start from the beginning and go through his solo discography, divulging information about his musically passionate life along the way.
“My first solo album was ‘Here Comes Shuggie Otis’ in 1969 and at that stage I hadn’t really developed a style for writing music yet…”
In 1969 Shuggie was just 15-years-old. Although a talented guitarist, his writing skills were not at the same level as later in life. So he turned to Johnny Otis for some help.
“The studio musicians and my father, Johnny, helped co-write some of the songs on ‘Here Comes Shuggie Otis’. I wrote a lot of music, but in terms of words I didn’t get to that until the second album.
“One of my favourite tracks off that album was ‘Oxford Gray’. It was very exciting to play with a string orchestra.”
Shuggie describes the reaction to his first album as “ok”. However, for a young teenager to be recognised as BB King’s favourite new guitarist in one issue of Guitar Player magazine, he must have been doing something right.
“The 1971 record ‘Freedom Flight’ was much more me.”
For his next album Shuggie stepped up to the plate lyrically, writing most of the words and music. One of the most popular tracks on the record is undeniably ‘Strawberry Letter 23′.
It has since become one of the most sampled songs in history, and Shuggie made a lot of effort to perfect it.
“I started that song off with a drum machine, which was brand new back then. I wanted to do every piece of music on that song. I think in the end everyone was happy with how that whole record turned out, although I felt some people in Epic Records wanted a blues album.”
“I didn’t want to be pop, I wanted to explore the sounds I was coming up with…”
Shuggie mentions that he doesn’t like to dwell on the past but he often revisits his 1974 album ‘Inspiration Information’.
“I’m always grateful to Epic Records for allowing me to make that album, but they didn’t push it, I got a really small ad in Billboard. But it was all fun.
“Even when they dropped me I was still enjoying what I was doing. I have a lot of fun recording, but being on stage is where I love to be.”
Shuggie jokes about his youthful mindset when Epic decided not to continue their professional relationship with him.
“I said to my father that we’d have another record deal in two weeks. It always makes me laugh, because two weeks turned into forty years or something like that!
“But I had a great life. I wasn’t out there hiding. People always say I disappeared, but I was still writing, recording and sending mixtapes to all kinds of record companies. I think there were people in the industry that just didn’t care for me. I felt awful about it, but I only found out later that I still had fans, they were still into my music.”
“I went through some hard times in my life, but I always thought I’d end up back on stage.”
Now Shuggie Otis and his new band are on the road and he’s optimistic for what the future holds.
“I’m out of that funk that I was in, that depression. This is a new day for me, for some reason there’s something very special about today.”
Catch the legendary Shuggie Otis in The Sugar Club on February 18 for what promises to be a special show.