Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

Pioneering R&B / funk genius from Shuggie Otis

We’re going to jump into the WABAC Machine again today and go back for an album that was years ahead of its time: “Inspiration Information” by Shuggie Otis. I don’t know how I missed this album for so many years. Everything I have seen written about it calls it “seminal,” “influential,” or “important.” I consider myself a bit of a music buff but somehow I lived for decades without ever being exposed to this. To be honest, I can’t remember now how I did hear about it. I think one of the songs was on a soundtrack, but I can’t find it now. Maybe I found it at the library. Anyway, it could be that everyone knew about Shuggie but me, but on the off chance you’ve never heard this incredible album, I wanted to recommend it today.

If you've never heard this, I just did you a huge favor. This is one of those run -- don't walk -- to the music store and get it albums.

Son of pianist and R&B pioneer, Johnny Otis, Shuggie began playing professionally at age 12. He had to disguise himself with shades and a fake mustache so he could play in nightclubs. At age 15, he was asked by Al Kooper to replace Stephen Stills in the studio for a “Super Sessions” album. That and other session work netted him a deal with Epic Records, with whom he released “Here Comes Shuggie Otis” in 1970 and “Freedom Fight” in 1971. He spent the next 3 years working on “Inspiration Information,” playing almost every instrument, and finally released it in October of 1974.

The music is delicately put together but built to last. The melodies are beautiful, the funk is nasty, and all the parts are played with improvisational color. You should definitely pick up the entire disc, not just pick up the tracks I mention below. The disc works really well in a CD player and sets a fabulous mood. That said, these are my favorite tracks.

  • Inspiration Information – Jamiroquai’s voice sounds a lot like Shuggie’s but this is a sweeter groove than Jamiroquai ever assembled. This is a great way to kick off the disc and it’s still my favorite track on the album.
  • Sparkle City – This starts out so gentle and delicate and then quickly turns funky. The two-minute intro finally gives way to sweet vocals and horns. Another fantastic song.
  • Aht Uh Mi Hed – This mellow song trots along until a chamber orchestral bridge about half way through. Then the energy picks up and it just keeps getting better.
  • Pling! – Perhaps it’s named for the first second of the song. Not sure, but it’s a gorgeous instrumental piece with syncopated but flowing electric piano and eventually some horns.
  • Not Available – Shuggie picks it back up with a little 70s funk. You know what I mean. Lots of bass, violins, and snare rim shot percussion. Horns take over for the violins in the middle of the track and we get a little tambourine. The melody is kind of surprising too. Sadly, the song fades out when it sounds like it’s going to launch into a great 10-minute groove.
  • Strawberry Letter 23 – The Brothers Johnson covered this song in 1977 and took it to the top of the Billboard Soul chart. A bunch of people have sampled it, too, including Silk, Beyonce, and Dr. Dre. Great composition.

Surprisingly, this was to be the last release by Shuggie Otis. He didn’t die. In fact, he played on a song for Mos Def in 2004. I don’t know what happened. According to Wikipedia, he declined offers to work with The Rolling Stones and Quincy Jones, had some bad concert incidents, got a reputation as a prima donna, and ultimately lost his contract with Epic. He’s only 57 now. If we’re all lucky, he’s been working on an album for the last 30 years that is going to knock us out. Come back, Shuggie!

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February 10, 2010 - Posted by | Classic Rock, R&B, Soul

2 Comments »

  1. I love love love this album. Yes he turned down The Stones and they hired Ron Wood instead which was unfortunate for everyone. (Sorry Woody) I also have an album called Shuggie’s Boogie – Shuggie Otis Plays the Blues which is highly recommended.

    Comment by Dave The Body | February 11, 2010 | Reply

  2. Sweet. Thanks for the recommendation. I realized today that as much as I love this album, I haven’t picked up any other Shuggie. Terrible oversight. I’ll lay hands on a copy of that one.

    Comment by missedmusic | February 11, 2010 | Reply


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