Once upon a time, back in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Shuggie Otis was thought to be another Jimi Hendrix in waiting. His albums Here Comes Shuggie Otis (1969) and Freedom Flight (1971) showed great promise and are still worth tracking down. While he didn’t attain the heights predicted for him, he remains one the many times underappreciated guitarists of the last half-century.
Shuggie is the son of Blues and Rock And Roll Hall Of Famer Johnny Otis and spent a number of years touring and recording with his father. The family genes are being passed on as his son Eric and brother Nick both play in his band, while another son Lucky is a producer.
His recorded out-put as a solo artist has been sparse down through the years but he has remained active. He has now issued the first live album of his 45 year old career titled Live In Williamsburg.
While he remains one of the better technical guitarists working today; the concert has a maturity and smoothness that only years of practice can bring.
“Sparkle City” is a languid and bluesy jam that sounds familiar as it flows along, while “Shuggie’s Boogie” has a little more bite to it. The nine minute “Wings Of Love” is the best example of his ability to take a melody and improvise.
If you are a fan of Otis, then “Aht Uh My Head” will prove interesting as the use of brass to provide a foundation for the guitar sound is very different from the original studio version and are what the best live concerts are all about. “Trying To Get Close To You,” ”Me And My Woman,” and the up-tempo “Doin’ What’s Right” fuse the type of funk and blues that he was so proficient at creating.
The concert ends with his most famous composition. “Strawberry Letter #23” was a number one R&B hit and a top five pop hit for the Brothers Johnson in 1977. His version has more textures than a straight funk song but is instantly recognizable.
Hopefully Shuggie Otis will be more active in the future. Live In Williamsburg gives a nice hint of the talent and power waiting to be unleashed.