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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Shuggie Otis

Inspiration Information/Wings of Love (Epic Legacy)

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Shuggie Otis seemed to be on his way in the early ‘70s. The son of R&B pioneer Johnny Otis, Shuggie was an ace guitarist and a good songwriter who attracted top jazz, rock and soul musicians to his sessions. In 1974 he released Inspiration Information and more or less disappeared—although samples of his music turned up decades later on tracks by OutKast and Beyonce.

Inspiration Information has been reissued on CD along with a host of unreleased and more recent tracks, a “lost album” dubbed Wings of Love. The jacket notes by British critic Chris Campion quote Otis as saying that the record labels slammed the door on his face after Inspiration, a charge that seems less credible from an era when artists with small but proven followings were given years to develop their careers. The jacket notes also indicate that Otis was a reclusive genius. Maybe he just enjoyed working in his home studio more than touring? Nothing wrong with that.

And the music? Inspiration Information was a largely one-man production, foreshadowing albums Prince would make in a few years. Otis had a deft hand on guitar but was capable on all instruments in arrangements as sparsely furnished as a demo. The music included bashful R&B a la The Spinners and easy flowing funk along with gritty Southern-fried moments and even a tangent into spacey electronic experimentation. The Wings of Love disc reveals another side to Otis with more full-bodied, wilder funk.

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